The passing of tango great Horacio Salgán in the summer of 2016 just after his 100th birthday reminds that it was actually not that long ago. It's also the most momentous year in the history of tango - thanks to the brilliant Roberto Firpo. The first billionaire, new inventions, new music, new stars, new nations are appearing; looking at '16 tells us a lot about today. For fun we take the long way around the world to see what's happening before landing in Argentina ...

Perhaps the most interesting non-music historical figure of 1916 is shy 28 year old Ned Lawrence. An Oxford archeologist and cartographer, in the Great War he finds himself creating the Great Arab Revolt - then being betrayed by his own masters. Something about black gold and a canal. What we see in the middle-east today and the refugee crises in Europe starts in 1916. He tells everyone exactly what is going to happen: creating absurdly artificial new "nations" with the stroke of a pen is a very bad idea. And he is proved right.

Did you know? Ned Lawrence stands 5'4" - the actor who famously portrays him in Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O'Toole, is 6'2". That's like Peter pretending to be another towering historical figure of 1916, Charles Chaplin, also 5'4"


bullet January 1 - The British Royal Army Medical Corps carries out the first successful blood transfusion using blood that had been stored and cooled

bullet Albert Einstein publishes his General Theory of Relativity showing that its field equations admit wavelike solutions. This will finally be proven by demonstration in ... 2016 (!)

There were 49,937 patents granted in 1916. Among them:

bullet The process widely used for the production of single crystal silicon is invented by Polish chemist Jan Czochralski. I don't think he named it after the valley

bullet Polish-German scientist Julius Fromm patents his process for making a thinner, seamless condom. Instead of working with rubber as a solid material, it is mixed with gasoline or benzene. This makes it a liquid which can be dipped in molds. At right, 1917 French condom ad aimed at just-arriving American soldiers: "Did you put your helmet on?"

(When tango sweeps through France in a sensation in the 20's, the mayor of Paris famously says, "In France, we do it lying down!" Not a dancer then)


bullet 1st published reference to "jazz" appears (in Variety Magazine, October 27). The musicians themselves had been calling it jass. Too naughty!

bullet 1st international media superstar Enrico Caruso releases "O Solo Mio" via his long-time Montreal-based pioneer record company (bought in 1924 from gramophone inventor Emile Berliner, moved to New York and re-named RCA)

bullet 1st recording of La Cumparsita, now tango's most famous song, by Roberto Firpo in Buenos Aires. He also introduces to tango: the piano - doesn't that sound like an odd thing to say now? and not one but 2 violins - allowing first time counter-melodies heard in tango

bullet The new (still current in 2016) formula for Coca-Cola is introduced July 1. Gone is the original special ingredient, cocaine; just add lots of refined sugar. America's War On Nutrition secretly begins. Can be won, maybe. If only there was such a thing as a ... supermarket

bullet 1st true supermarket, the "Piggly Wiggly" is opened by Clarence Saunders in Memphis, Tennessee on September 6. Originator of various familiar supermarket features such as checkout stands, individual item price marking and shopping carts. When asked why he had chosen the name, Saunders said "So people will ask that very question"

bullet Emma Goldman is arrested for lecturing on birth control in the United States; Margaret Sanger opens 1st birth control clinic (in Brooklyn) and is promptly arrested for breaking obscenity laws; Jeannette Rankin first woman in America to be elected to Congress; Louis Brandeis is confirmed as the United States' first Jewish Supreme Court justice

bullet John D. Rockefeller becomes the 1st billionaire on September 29

bullet 23-year-old Toronto native Mary Pickford (4'10" powerhouse Gladys Marie Smith) becomes the first female film star to get a million dollar contract. Around the world more than 12 million people watch her films every day of the year. (Try to match that, internet stars - and her fans paid cash). The biggest global film company, Paramount, has been entirely built on her popularity. It is said she invented acting for film

In Argentina Hipólito Yrigoyen of the Radical Party becomes President in 1916 for the first time. He preserves Argentine neutrality during the war, which turns out to be a boon owing to higher beef prices and the opening up of many new markets to Argentina's primary exports (beef and cereals). Yrigoyen also promotes energy independence, establishing the YPF state oil concern. Generous credit and subsidies are extended to small farmers, while Yrigoyen settles wage disputes in favour of the unions. He creates a national minimum wage to counter-act inflation. The economy will expand by over 40 per cent in the next five years. Hence the famous expression in Europe (then, not now!) "rich as an Argentine." Excellent conditions for musicians, you might say

The tango age is about to begin and will invade Paris, Europe and Hollywood not long after the war pauses. But tango dancing is still officially prohibited in Argentina. Of course.

Life in the new global village in memorable 1916.

Related reading:

Roberto Firpo and his tango revolution

The incredible legal saga of La Cumparsita

Enrico Caruso's influence on Argentine tango music

Emile Berliner & The Birth Of Records

Recommended YouTube Viewing:

About T. E. Lawrence and the region then and now from BBC (2015)

Mary Pickford documentary

The wonderful PBS Jazz series by Ken Burns. The parallels in the history of Ragtime-then-Jazz development in New Orleans and the simultaneous Milonga-then-Tango in Buenos Aires are remarkable.  !