James Burke

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When you get a headache, you probably just pop an aspirin and wait for the pain to go away.

While you’re waiting, give a thought to full time lawyer and part time poet Francis Scot Key, who in 1814 wrote The Star Spangled Banner.

But, why did he write it anyway?

More on that in sixty seconds.

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Francis Scot Key’s inspiration to write The star Spangled Banner undoubtedly came while he was actually watching all those bombs bursting in air… right above Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor.

Interestingly, at the time he was standing on the deck of a British ship.

The ship’s captain was Thomas Cochrane. A little later, Cochrane’s dad -- an impoverished British aristocrat -- noticed that the jolly old Royal Navy had a big problem -- no pitch to waterproof their ships with, because American independence meant no more pitch (or "pine tar") from North Carolina pine trees.

So Cochrane is trying to make pitch… by cooking coal. He notices that it gives off fumes -- that you can set fire to. Bingo: Gaslight!

Soon, gaslight is everywhere. But its by-product is the decidedly unfriendly coal tar, which now is being dumped by the ton into rivers and ponds everywhere.

Until a German chemist takes a closer look at the gunk and discovers phenol. One step away from salicylic acid. A.k.a: aspirin.

I’m James Burke, making connections.