January 31st in history:
Two Wisconsin towns called Kilbourntown and Juneautown merged on January 31st, 1846, after years of disputes. They were on opposite sides of a river, and Kilbourntown on the west side often attempted to isolate Juneautown to the east. When the two towns finally became a single city, they named the new community after the river between them: the Milwaukee River.
Former Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig was the baseball commissioner who suspended outspoken player John Rocker on this date in 2000. Rocker, a star relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, had angered many fans with an interview in Sports Illustrated where he made racist and anti-gay remarks, and said unflattering things about New York City. January 31st is the birthday of the first black ballplayer in the major leagues, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers (born 1919), and the first black player for the Chicago Cubs, Ernie Banks (1931).
And the 3M Company turned a slur against a nationality into a successful brand name when it started selling Scotch Tape on January 31st, 1930. The name “Scotch” came from a customer complaint that 3M put too little adhesive on the tape, in order to save money.
May 17th in history:
Explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet began their journey to map the Mississippi River on May 17th, 1673. The trip started on Lake Michigan. The explorers traveled down the Wisconsin River to reach the Mississippi a month later, near the modern towns of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and Marquette, Iowa.
Marquette and Jolliet passed present-day Kentucky on their trek down the Mississippi. The first Kentucky Derby was run on this day in 1875 — not the first Saturday in May, or even a Saturday at all (it was a Monday). The winning horse was Aristides.
Secretariat set the record for the fastest time at the Kentucky Derby in 1973. “Secretariat” made regular appearances on a late-night talk show (okay, it was two guys in a horse costume) on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” Scottish comedian Ferguson was born May 17th, 1962. Before getting the hosting job on “The Late Late Show,” Ferguson played Drew’s boss on “The Drew Carey Show.”
And May 17th is the birthday of an actor famous for roles in movies about a river journey (“Apocalypse Now”) and a motorcycle trek (“Easy Rider”) — Dennis Hopper (born 1936).