April 6 in Thailand is marked as King Phutthayotfa Chulalok the Great and Chakri Dynasty Memorial Day (วันพระบาทสมเด็จพระพุทธยอดฟ้าจุฬาโลกมหาราชและวันที่ระลึกมหาจักรีบรมราชวงศ์), or simply Chakri Day (วันจักรี — Wan Chakkri) which commemorates the establishment of the Chakri Dynasty and the founding of Bangkok by King Phutthayotfa Chulalok in 1782, detailed on A Stamp A Day last year. This year, I have found several events that occurred on this date for which I have appropriate stamps. Rather than trying to choose one, I have decided to put them together into one article with much less detail on each.
aPRIL 6, 1652: CAPE TOWN FOUNDED
On April 6, 1652, at the Cape of Good Hope, Dutch sailor Jan van Riebeeck established a victualling (supply) station for Dutch ships sailing to East Africa, India, and the Far East. Located on the shore of Table Bay, As the first permanent European settlement in South Africa. this outpost of the the Dutch East India Company (VOC) eventually became the economic and cultural hub of the Cape Colony (Kaapkolonie) called Cape Town (Kaapstad). Until the 1886 Witwatersrand Gold Rush and the development of Johannesburg, Cape Town was the largest city in South Africa.
As the seat of the Parliament of South Africa, Cape Town today is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality. The city is famous for its harbor, for its natural setting in the Cape Floristic Region, and for such well-known landmarks as Table Mountain and Cape Point. As of 2014, it is the tenth most populous city in Africa and home to 64% of the Western Cape’s population. It is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, reflecting its role as a major destination for immigrants and expatriates to South Africa. The city was named the World Design Capital for 2014 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. In 2014, Cape Town was named the best place in the world to visit by both the American New York Times and the British Daily Telegraph.
The earliest known remnants in the region were found at Peers Cave in Fish Hoek and date to between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago. Little is known of the history of the region’s first residents, since there is no written history from the area before it was first mentioned by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1486 who was the first European to reach the area and named it Cabos das Tormentas (Cape of Storms). It was later renamed by John II of Portugal as Cabo da Boa Esperança (Cape of Good Hope) because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of a sea route to India and the East. Vasco da Gama recorded a sighting of the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. In the late 16th century, Portuguese, French, Danish, Dutch and English but mainly Portuguese ships regularly stopped over in Table Bay en route to the Indies. They traded tobacco, copper and iron with the Khoikhoi in exchange for fresh meat.
In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck and other employees of the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-indische Compagnie, VOC) were sent to the Cape to establish a way-station for ships travelling to the Dutch East Indies, and the Fort de Goede Hoop (later replaced by the Castle of Good Hope). Van Riebeeck arrived in Table Bay on April 6, 1652.
The settlement grew slowly during this period, as it was hard to find adequate labor. This labor shortage prompted the authorities to import slaves from Indonesia and Madagascar. Many of these became ancestors of the first Cape Colured communities. Under Van Riebeeck and his successors as VOC commanders and later governors at the Cape, an impressive range of useful plants were introduced to the Cape in the process changing the natural environment forever. Some of these, including grapes, cereals, ground nuts, potatoes, apples and citrus, had an important and lasting influence on the societies and economies of the region.
The Dutch Republic being transformed in Revolutionary France’s vassal Batavian Republic, Great Britain moved to take control of its colonies. Britain captured Cape Town in 1795, but the Cape was returned to the Dutch by treaty in 1803. British forces occupied the Cape again in 1806 following the Battle of Blaauwberg. In the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814, Cape Town was permanently ceded to Britain. It became the capital of the newly formed Cape Colony, whose territory expanded very substantially through the 1800s. With expansion came calls for greater independence from Britain, with the Cape attaining its own parliament (1854) and a locally accountable Prime Minister (1872). Suffrage was established according to the non-racial, but sexist Cape Qualified Franchise.
The discovery of diamonds in Griqualand West in 1867, and the Witwatersrand Gold Rush in 1886, prompted a flood of immigrants to South Africa. Conflicts between the Boer republics in the interior and the British colonial government resulted in the Second Boer War of 1899–1902, which Britain won. In 1910, Britain established the Union of South Africa, which unified the Cape Colony with the two defeated Boer Republics and the British colony of Natal. Cape Town became the legislative capital of the Union, and later of the Republic of South Africa.
In the 1948 national elections, the National Party won on a platform of apartheid (racial segregation) under the slogan of “swart gevaar“. This led to the erosion and eventual abolition of the Cape’s multiracial franchise, as well as to the Group Areas Act, which classified all areas according to race. Formerly multi-racial suburbs of Cape Town were either purged of unlawful residents or demolished. The most infamous example of this in Cape Town was District Six. After it was declared a whites-only region in 1965, all housing there was demolished and over 60,000 residents were forcibly removed. Many of these residents were relocated to the Cape Flats and Lavender Hill. Under apartheid, the Cape was considered a “Coloured labour preference area”, to the exclusion of “Bantus”, i.e. Africans.
Cape Town was home to many leaders of the anti-apartheid movement. On Robben Island, a former penitentiary island six miles (10 kilometers) from the city, many famous political prisoners were held for years. In one of the most famous moments marking the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela made his first public speech since his imprisonment, from the balcony of Cape Town City Hall hours after being released on February 11, 1990. His speech heralded the beginning of a new era for the country, and the first democratic election, was held four years later on April 27, 1994. Nobel Square in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront features statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners: Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. Since 1994, the city has struggled with problems such as drugs, a surge in violent drug-related crime and more recently gang violence. At the same time, the economy has surged to unprecedented levels due to the boom in the tourism and the real estate industries. With a Gini coefficient of 0.67, Cape Town has the highest rate of equality in South Africa.
Cape Town is located at latitude 33.55° S (approximately the same as Sydney and Buenos Aires and equivalent to Casablanca and Los Angeles in the northern hemisphere) and longitude 18.25° E. Table Mountain, with its near vertical cliffs and flat-topped summit over 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) high, and with Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head on either side, together form a dramatic mountainous backdrop enclosing the central area of Cape Town, the so-called City Bowl. A thin strip of cloud, known colloquially as the “tablecloth”, sometimes forms on top of the mountain. To the immediate south, the Cape Peninsula is a scenic mountainous spine jutting 25 miles (40 km) southwards into the Atlantic Ocean and terminating at Cape Point. There are over 70 peaks above 980 feet (300 m) within Cape Town’s official city limits. Many of the city’s suburbs lie on the large plain called the Cape Flats, which extends over 30 miles (50 km) to the east and joins the peninsula to the mainland. The Cape Town region is characterized by an extensive coastline, rugged mountain ranges, coastal plains, inland valleys and semi-desert fringes.
Scott #62 portrays Table Mountain and Bay along with the arms of the Cape Colony. Designed by E. Sturman and printed by Thomas de la Rue & Company Ltd. in London using typography, the 1-penny carmine rose stamp was released in January 1900.
April 6, 1862: Battle of Shiloh
On April 6, 1862, in Tennessee, forces under Union General Ulysses S. Grant meet Confederate troops led by General Albert Sidney Johnston starting the Battle of Shiloh, also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing. This was a battle in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, fought April 6–7, 1862, in southwestern Tennessee. A Union force known as the Army of the Tennessee led by Major General Ulysses S. Grant had moved via the Tennessee River deep into Tennessee. They were encamped principally at Pittsburg Landing on the west bank of the Tennessee River, where the Confederate Army of Mississippi led by General Albert Sidney Johnston with P. G. T. Beauregard as second-in-command launched a surprise attack on Grant’s army from its base in Corinth, Mississippi.
Johnston was mortally wounded during the fighting; Beauregard succeeded to command of the army and decided against pressing the attack late in the evening. Overnight, Grant was reinforced by one of his divisions stationed further north and was joined by three divisions from the Army of the Ohio headed by Major General Don Carlos Buell. The Union forces began an unexpected counterattack the next morning which reversed the Confederate gains of the previous day.
On April 6, the first day of the battle, the Confederates struck with the intention of driving the Union defenders away from the river and into the swamps of Owl Creek to the west. Johnston hoped to defeat Grant’s army before the anticipated arrival of Buell and the Army of the Ohio. The Confederate battle lines became confused during the fighting, and Grant’s men instead fell back to the northeast, in the direction of Pittsburg Landing. A Union position on a slightly sunken road, nicknamed the “Hornet’s Nest” defended by the divisions of Brigadier Generals Benjamin Prentiss and William H. L. Wallace, provided time for the remainder of the Union line to stabilize under the protection of numerous artillery batteries. Wallace was mortally wounded when the position collapsed, while several regiments from the two divisions were eventually surrounded and surrendered. Johnston was shot in the leg and bled to death while leading an attack. Beauregard acknowledged how tired the army was from the day’s exertions and decided against assaulting the final Union position that night.
Tired but unfought and well-organized men from Buell’s army and a division of Grant’s army arrived in the evening of April 6 and helped turn the tide the next morning, when the Union commanders launched a counterattack along the entire line. On Monday morning, April 7, the combined Union armies numbered 45,000 men; the Confederates suffered as many as 8,500 casualties the first day and their commanders reported no more than 20,000 effectives due to stragglers and deserters. No line of battle was formed, and few if any commands were resupplied with ammunition. The soldiers were consumed by the need to locate food, water, and shelter for a much-needed night’s rest.
In early afternoon, Beauregard launched a series of counterattacks from the Shiloh Church area, aiming to control the Corinth Road. The Union right was temporarily driven back by these assaults at Water Oaks Pond. Crittenden, reinforced by Tuttle, seized the junction of the Hamburg-Purdy and East Corinth roads, driving the Confederates into Prentiss’s old camps. Nelson resumed his attack and seized the heights overlooking Locust Grove Branch by late afternoon. Beauregard’s final counterattack was flanked and repulsed when Grant moved Col. James C. Veatch’s brigade forward.
Realizing that he had lost the initiative, was low on ammunition and food, and had more than 10,000 of his men killed, wounded, or missing, Beauregard could go no further. He withdrew beyond Shiloh Church, leaving 5,000 men under Breckinridge as a covering force, and massed Confederate batteries at the church and on the ridge south of Shiloh Branch. Confederate forces kept the Union men in position on the Corinth Road until 5 p.m., then began an orderly withdrawal southwest to Corinth. The exhausted Union soldiers did not pursue much farther than the original Sherman and Prentiss encampments. Lew Wallace’s division crossed Shiloh Branch and advanced nearly 2 miles (3.2 km), but received no support from other units and was recalled. They returned to Sherman’s camps at dark. The battle was over.
For long afterwards, Grant and Buell quarreled over Grant’s decision not to mount an immediate pursuit with another hour of daylight remaining. Grant cited the exhaustion of his troops, although the Confederates were certainly just as exhausted. Part of Grant’s reluctance to act could have been the unusual command relationship he had with Buell. Although Grant was the senior officer and technically was in command of both armies, Buell made it quite clear throughout the two days that he was acting independently.
In his Memoirs Grant intimated that,
The battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburg landing, has been perhaps less understood, or to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood, than any other engagement between National and Confederate troops during the entire rebellion. Correct reports of the battle have been published, notably by Sherman, Badeau and, in a speech before a meeting of veterans, by General Prentiss; but all of these appeared long subsequent to the close of the rebellion and after public opinion had been most erroneously formed.
The two-day battle of Shiloh, was the bloodiest in American history up to that time, until the Battle of Antietam in September (an overall bloodier battle and still the bloodiest single-day in American military history), then the Battle of Chancellorsville the next year and soon after, the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest of the war. Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing); Grant’s army bore the brunt of the fighting over the two days, with casualties of 1,513 killed, 6,601 wounded, and 2,830 missing or captured. Confederate casualties were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured). The dead included the Confederate army’s commander, Albert Sidney Johnston, as well as Brigadier General Adley H. Gladden. The highest ranking Union general killed was W. H. L. Wallace. Union Colonel Everett Peabody, whose decision to send out a patrol the morning of the battle may have saved the Union from disaster, was also among the dead. Both sides were shocked at the carnage, which resulted in more than four times as many casualties as the Battle of Bull Run that had horrified the nation 10 months earlier.
The battle resulted in the defeat of the Confederate army and frustration of Johnston’s plans to prevent the two Union armies in Tennessee from joining together. The loss of Albert Johnston was a particularly severe blow to the Confederacy. President Jefferson Davis called it “the turning point of our fate.” For the remainder of the war, the Confederate armies in the West would go through a long string of commanders, much like the Union in the east, as Davis searched for a leader who was the caliber of Robert E. Lee.
Shiloh’s importance as a Civil War battle, coupled with the lack of widespread agricultural or industrial development in the battle area after the war, led to its development as one of the first five battlefields restored by the federal government in the 1890s. Government involvement eventually proved insufficient to preserve the land on which the battle took place. The federal government had saved just over 2,000 acres at Shiloh by 1897, and consolidated those gains by adding another 1,700 acres by 1954. Preservation eventually slowed. Since 1954, only 300 additional acres of the saved land had been preserved. Private preservation organizations stepped in to fill the void. The Civil War Trust became the primary agent of these efforts, preserving 1,158 acres at Shiloh since its inception. The land preserved by the Trust at Shiloh included tracts over which Confederate divisions passed as they fought Grant’s men on the battle’s first day and their retreat during the Union counteroffensive on day two. A 2012 campaign focused in particular on a section of land which was part of the Confederate right flank on day one and on several tracts which were part of the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
The Shiloh National Military Park was established on December 27, 1894. In 1904, Basil Wilson Duke was appointed commissioner of Shiloh National Military Park by President Theodore Roosevelt. There were requests of local farmers who had grown tired of their pigs rooting up the remains of soldiers that had fallen during the battle, insisting that the federal government do something about it. The park was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service on August 10, 1933. As with all historic areas administered by the National Park Service, the military park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. Shiloh National Cemetery is in the northeast corner of the park adjacent to the visitor center and bookstore. Buried within its 20.09 acres (81,300 m2) are 3584 Union dead (of whom 2357 are unknown), who were re-interred in the cemetery created after the war, in 1866. There are two Confederate dead interred in the cemetery. An unknown number of Confederate dead are interred in mass graves in the park.
Scott #1179 was the second in the series of five stamps marking the Civil War Centennial, released on April 7, 1962, through the Shiloh, Tennessee, post office. Designed by Noel Sickles, the 4-cent stamp features a sketch of a Civil War rifleman crouching behind a tree stump. The drawing style suggests a rapid battlefield sketch, similar to those of Winslow Homer and other combat artists of the period, rather than a toned, completed drawing. The peach blossom paper suggests the fact that an important phase of the Shiloh battle was fought in a peach orchard. The stamp was printed by Bureau of Engraving and Printing using the rotary process, electric-eye perforated in a gauge of 11×10½, and issued in panes of fifty stamps each. An initial printing of 120 million stamps was authorized and a total of 124,865,000 copies were printed.
April 6, 1866: grand Army of the Republic
On April 6, 1866, the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was founded in Decatur, Illinois. This was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army (United States Army), Union Navy (U.S. Navy), Marines and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War for the Northern/Federal forces. The G.A.R. grew to include hundreds of posts (local community units) across the nation, predominately in the North but also a few in the South and West. It was dissolved in 1956 at the death of its last member, Albert Woolson (1850–1956) of Duluth, Minnesota.
Linking men through their experience of the war, the G.A.R. became among the first organized advocacy groups in American politics, supporting voting rights for black veterans, promoting patriotic education, helping to make Memorial Day a national holiday, lobbying the United States Congress to establish regular veterans’ pensions, and supporting Republican political candidates. Its peak membership, at more than 490,000, was in 1890, a high point of various Civil War commemorative and monument dedication ceremonies. It was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), composed of male descendants of Union Army and Union Navy veterans.
After the end of American Civil War, various state and local organizations were formed for veterans to network and maintain connections with each other. Many of the veterans used their shared experiences as a basis for fellowship. Groups of men began joining together, first for camaraderie and later for political power. Emerging as most influential among the various organizations during the first post-war years was the Grand Army of the Republic, founded on April 6, 1866, on the principles of “Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty,” in Decatur, Illinois, by Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson.
The G.A.R. initially grew and prospered as a de facto political arm of the Republican Party during the heated political contests of the Reconstruction Era. The commemoration of Union Army and Navy veterans, black and white, immediately became entwined with partisan politics. The G.A.R. promoted voting rights for Negro veterans, as many white veterans recognized their demonstrated patriotism and sacrifices, providing one of the first racially integrated social/fraternal organizations in America. Black veterans, who enthusiastically embraced the message of equality, shunned black veterans’ organizations in preference for racially inclusive and integrated groups. When the Republican Party’s commitment to reform in the South gradually decreased, the G.A.R.’s mission became ill-defined and the organization floundered. The G.A.R. almost disappeared in the early 1870s, and many state-centered divisions, named “departments”, and local posts ceased to exist.
In his General Order No. 11, dated May 5, 1868, first Grand Army of the Republic Commander-in-Chief, General John A. Logan declared May 30 to be Memorial Day (also referred to for many years as “Decoration Day”), calling upon the G.A.R. membership to make the May 30 observance an annual occurrence. Although not the first time war graves had been decorated, Logan’s order effectively established “Memorial Day” as the day upon which Americans now pay tribute to all their war casualties, missing-in-action, and deceased veterans. As decades passed, similarly inspired commemorations also spread across the South as “Confederate Memorial Day” or “Confederate Decoration Day”, usually in April, led by organizations of Southern soldiers in the parallel United Confederate Veterans (U.C.V.).
In the 1880s, the Union veterans’ organization revived under new leadership that provided a platform for renewed growth, by advocating Federal pensions for veterans. As the organization revived, black veterans joined in significant numbers and organized local posts. The national organization, however, failed to press the case for similar pensions for black soldiers. Most black troops never received any pension or remuneration for wounds incurred during their Civil War service.
The Grand Army of the Republic was organized into “Departments” at the state level and “Posts” at the community level, and military-style uniforms were worn by its members. There were posts in every state in the U.S., and several posts overseas.
The pattern of establishing departments and local posts was later used by other American military veterans’ organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (organized originally for veterans of the Spanish–American War and the Philippine Insurrection) and the later American Legion (for the First World War and later expanded to include subsequent World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Middle Eastern wars).
The G.A.R.’s political power grew during the latter part of the 19th century, and it helped elect several United States presidents, beginning with the 18th, Ulysses S. Grant, and ending with the 25th, William McKinley. Five Civil War veterans and members (Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and McKinley) were elected President of the United States; all were Republicans. The sole post-war Democratic president was Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th chief executive. For a time, candidates could not get Republican presidential or congressional nominations without the endorsement of the G.A.R. veterans voting bloc.
With membership strictly limited to “veterans of the late unpleasantness,” the G.A.R. encouraged the formation of Allied Orders to aid them in various works. Numerous male organizations jousted for the backing of the Grand Army of the Republic, and the political battles became quite severe until the G.A.R. finally endorsed the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War as its heir.
The GAR reached its largest enrollment in 1890, with 490,000 members. It held an annual National Encampment every year from 1866 to 1949. At that final encampment in Indianapolis, Indiana, the few surviving members voted to retain the existing officers in place until the organization’s dissolution; Theodore Penland of Oregon, the GAR’s Commander at the time, was therefore its last. In 1956, after the death of the last member, Albert Woolson, the G.A.R. was formally dissolved.
Attendees of the eighty-second National Encampment, held at Grand Rapids, Michigan, on September 29, 1948, petitioned the United States Post Office Department (USPOD) to issue a stamp honoring the Grand Army. The request asked that the USPOD release the stamp at the Order’s final national encampment, to occur in the summer of 1949 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
A hold-the-press announcement on the front page of Western Stamp Collector for July 12, 1949, proclaimed, “Postmaster General Donaldson announced June 28 that a commemorative stamp has been authorized for issue during the last national encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, Aug 28 to Sept 1 in Indianapolis Ind.”
Charles R. Chickering of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing created the stamp’s original design. Charles A. Brooks engraved the vignette, and A.W. Christensen engraved the frame, lettering, and numerals. The 3-cent bright rose carmine stamp was produced by the BEP using the rotary press with a total of 117,020,000 copies printed and perforated 11×10½. Scott #985 was released on August 29, 1949, one day after the last Encampment began in Indianapolis. Only 16 members were still alive, with six present at the meeting. At the final campfire, the colors (flag) of the G.A.R were retired for the last time, and a Marine Band bugler played “Taps.”
Speaking at the First Day Ceremony, which was held at Monument Circle in Indianapolis, Deputy Assistant Postmaster General Robert E. Fellers said,
“The issuance of this United States postage stamp will pay tribute to those gallant sons who made it possible for every citizen of this glorious country of ours to enjoy the privileges of a United States of America. It is indeed gratifying to be able to greet some of these veterans here today, all of whom have passed the century mark. This fine organization, whose cardinal principles are Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty, gave to the Nation five Presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley.”
April 6, 1896: First modern Olympics
On April 6, 1896, the opening of the first modern Olympic Games was celebrated with ceremonies in Athens, Greece, 1,500 years after the original games are banned by Roman emperor Theodosius I. The 1896 Summer Olympics (Θερινοί Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες 1896 — Therinoí Olympiakoí Agónes 1896), officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, was the first international Olympic Games held in modern history. Organized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which had been created by Pierre de Coubertin, it was held in Athens, Greece, from April 6 to 15, 1896.
Winners were given a silver medal, while runners-up received a copper medal. Retroactively, the IOC has converted these to gold and silver, and awarded bronze medals to third placed athletes. Ten of the 14 participating nations earned medals. The United States won the most gold medals, 11; host nation Greece won the most medals overall, 46. The highlight for the Greeks was the marathon victory by their compatriot Spyridon Louis. The most successful competitor was German wrestler and gymnast Carl Schuhmann, who won four events.
Athens had been unanimously chosen to stage the inaugural modern Games during a congress organized by Coubertin in Paris on June 23, 1894, during which the IOC was also created, because Greece was the birthplace of the Ancient Olympic Games. The main venue was the Panathenaic Stadium, where athletics and wrestling took place; other venues included the Neo Phaliron Velodrome for cycling, and the Zappeion for fencing.
The opening ceremony was held in the Panathenaic Stadium on April 6 (March 25 according to the Julian calendar then in use in Greece). It was Easter Monday for both the Western and Eastern Christian Churches and the anniversary of Greece’s independence. The stadium was filled with an estimated 80,000 spectators, including King George I of Greece, his wife Olga, and their sons. Most of the competing athletes were aligned on the infield, grouped by nation. After a speech by the president of the organizing committee, Crown Prince Constantine, his father officially opened the Games. with the words (in Greek):
“I declare the opening of the first international Olympic Games in Athens. Long live the Nation. Long live the Greek people.“
Afterwards, nine bands and 150 choir singers performed an Olympic Hymn, composed by Spyridon Samaras, with words by poet Kostis Palamas. Thereafter, a variety of musical offerings provided the backgrounds to the Opening Ceremonies until 1960, since which time the Samaras/Palamas composition has become the official Olympic Anthem (a decision taken by the IOC Session in 1958). Other elements of current Olympic opening ceremonies were initiated later: the Olympic flame was first lit in 1928, the first athletes’ oath was sworn at the 1920 Summer Olympics, and the first officials’ oath was taken at the 1972 Olympic Games.
At the 1894 Sorbonne congress, a large roster of sports were suggested for the program in Athens. The first official announcements regarding the sporting events to be held featured sports such as football and cricket, but these plans were never finalized, and these sports did not make the final list for the Games. Rowing and yachting were scheduled, but had to be cancelled due to poor weather on the planned day of competition. As a result, the 1896 Summer Olympics programme featured nine sports encompassing ten disciplines and 43 events. The number of events in each discipline is noted in parentheses.
- Athletics (12)
- Cycling — Road (1) and Track (5)
- Fencing (3)
- Gymnastics (8)
- Sailing (0) (Canceled)
- Shooting (5)
- Swimming (4)
- Tennis (2)
- Weightlifting (2)
- Wrestling (1)
The athletics events had the most international field of any of the sports. The major highlight was the marathon, held for the first time in international competition. Spyridon Louis, a previously unrecognized water carrier, won the event to become the only Greek athletics champion and a national hero. Although Greece had been favored to win the discus and the shot put, the best Greek athletes finished just behind the American Robert Garrett in both events.
No world records were set, as few top international competitors had elected to compete. In addition, the curves of the track were very tight, making fast times in the running events virtually impossible. Despite this, Thomas Burke, of the United States, won the 100-meter race in 12.0 seconds and the 400-meter race in 54.2 seconds. Burke was the only one who used the “crouch start” (putting his knee on soil), confusing the jury. Eventually, he was allowed to start from this “uncomfortable position”.
Australian competitor Edwin Flack came to Athens to watch the games, but decided to compete in the athletics events. He won two races—the 800-meter and the 1500-meter.
The concept of national teams was not a major part of the Olympic movement until the Intercalated Games 10 years later, though many sources list the nationality of competitors in 1896 and give medal counts. There are significant conflicts with regard to which nations competed. The International Olympic Committee gives a figure of 14, but does not list them. The following 14 are most likely the ones recognised by the IOC. Some sources list 12, excluding Chile and Bulgaria; others list 13, including those two but excluding Italy. Egypt is also sometimes included because of Dionysios Kasdaglis’ participation. Belgium and Russia had entered the names of competitors, but withdrew.
- Australia – Prior to 1901 Australia was not a unified nation but six separately administered British colonies, but the results of Edwin Flack are typically given with him listed as Australian. (1)
- Austria – Austria was part of Austria–Hungary at the time, though the results of Austrian athletes are typically reported separately. (3)
- Bulgaria – The Bulgarian Olympic Committee claims that gymnast Charles Champaud was competing as a Bulgarian. Champaud was a Swiss national living in Bulgaria. Mallon and de Wael both list Champaud as Swiss. (1)
- Chile – The Chilean Olympic Committee claims to have had one athlete, Luis Subercaseaux, compete in the 100, 400, and 800-meter races in the athletics programme. No further details are given, and no mention is made of Subercaseaux in de Wael, or the Official Report. (1)
- Denmark (3)
- France (12)
- Germany (19)
- Great Britain – The United Kingdom (of Great Britain and Ireland) maintains separate athletic organizations for each of its constituent countries. In the Olympic Games, the UK participates as a single entity, but conventionally under the name “Great Britain” rather than the more accurate “United Kingdom”. (10)
- Greece – Greek results typically include the results of competitors from Cyprus, Smyrna and Egypt. Some sources give Cypriot results separately, though most count Anastasios Andreou, a Greek-Cypriot and the only athlete from Cyprus, as Greek (Cyprus was a protectorate of the United Kingdom at the time). Kasdaglis, an athlete of Greek origins living in Alexandria, Egypt, is listed by the IOC as Greek during his competition in the singles tennis competition but Kasdaglis and his doubles tennis teammate, Greek athlete Demetrios Petrokokkinos, are listed as a mixed team.
- Hungary – Hungary is usually listed separately from Austria, despite the two being formally joined as Austria–Hungary at the time. (7)
- Italy – The most prominent Italian involved with the games, Carlo Airoldi, was deemed a professional and excluded from competition. However, the shooter Giuseppe Rivabella was also Italian and did compete. (1)
- Sweden (1) – Although Sweden was in state union with Norway at the time, Norway did not send any athletes.
- Switzerland (3)
- United States (14)
On the morning of Sunday, April 12, 1896 (or April 3, according to the Julian calendar then used in Greece), King George the Great organized a banquet for officials and athletes (even though some competitions had not yet been held). During his speech, he made clear that, as far as he was concerned, the Olympics should be held in Athens permanently. The official closing ceremony was held the following Wednesday, after being postponed from Tuesday due to rain. Again the royal family attended the ceremony, which was opened by the national anthem of Greece and an ode composed in ancient Greek by George S. Robertson, a British athlete and scholar.
Afterwards, the king awarded prizes to the winners. Unlike today, the first-place winners received a silver medal, an olive branch and a diploma, while runners-up received a copper medal, a laurel branch, and diploma. Third place winners did not receive a prize.
Some winners also received additional prizes, such as Spyridon Louis, who received a cup from Michel Bréal, a friend of Coubertin, who had conceived the marathon event. Louis then led the medalists on a lap of honor around the stadium, while the Olympic Hymn was played again. The King then formally announced that the first Olympiad was at an end, and left the Stadium, while the band played the Greek national hymn and the crowd cheered.
Like the Greek king, many others supported the idea of holding the next Games in Athens; most of the American competitors signed a letter to the Crown Prince expressing this wish. Coubertin, however, was heavily opposed to this idea, as he envisioned international rotation as one of the cornerstones of the modern Olympics. According to his wish, the next Games were held in Paris, although they would be somewhat overshadowed by the concurrently held Universal Exposition.
The 1896 Olympics were regarded as a great success. The Games had the largest international participation of any sporting event to that date. The Panathenaic Stadium, the only Olympic stadium used in the 1800s, overflowed with the largest crowd ever to watch a sporting event. Except for the Intercalated Games of 1906, the Olympics did not return to Greece until the 2004 Summer Olympics, 108 years later.
Scott #1838 was released on June 4, 1996, one of a large number of stamps released by Greece between 1994 and 1996 to mark the centenary of the Modern Olympic Games. The 80-drachma stamp pictures a stylized design of a discus-thrower and is perforated 13½x14.
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