On This Day in History

On This Day, May 22, 1856 – Violence Erupts in the Halls of Congress

1856 – Southern Congressman Preston Brooks savagely beats Northern Senator Charles Sumner in the halls of Congress as tensions rise over the expansion of slavery. When the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was passed, popular sovereignty was applied within the two new territories and people were given the right to decide the slave issue by vote. Because the act nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the debate over slavery intensified. Northerners were incensed that slavery could again resurface in an area where it had been banned for over 30 years. When violence broke out in Kansas Territory, the issue became central in Congress. On May 19, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, an ardent abolitionist, began a two-day speech on the Senate floor in which he decried the “crime against Kansas” and blasted three of his colleagues by name, one of whom — South Carolina Senator Andrew P. Butler — was...

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On This Day, May 21, 1856 – Lawrence, Kansas Sacked by Pro-Slavery Forces

Lawrence was founded in 1854 by anti-slavery settlers, many with the financial support of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. The town soon became the center of pro-slavery violence in Kansas Territory. While the village had been besieged in December 1855, it was not directly attacked at that time. The non-fatal shooting of Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones on April 23, 1856, while he was attempting to arrest free-state settlers in Lawrence, is considered the immediate cause of the violence. Lawrence residents drove Jones out of town after they shot him, and on May 11, Federal Marshal J. B. Donaldson proclaimed the act had interfered with the execution of warrants against the extralegal Free-State legislature, which was set up in opposition to the official pro-slavery territorial government. Based on this proclamation, as well the finding by a grand jury that Lawrence’s Free State Hotel was actually built to use as a fort, Sheriff Jones assembled a posse of about...

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On This Day, May 20, 1873 – Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis Patent Blue Jeans

1873 – On this day in 1873, San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss and Reno, Nevada, tailor Jacob Davis are given a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, marking the birth of one of the world’s most famous garments: blue jeans. Born Loeb Strauss in Buttenheim, Bavaria, in 1829, the young Strauss immigrated to New York with his family in 1847 after the death of his father. By 1850, Loeb had changed his name to Levi and was working in the family dry goods business, J. Strauss Brother & Co. In early 1853, Levi Strauss went west to seek his fortune during the heady days of the Gold Rush.In San Francisco, Strauss established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name and worked as the West Coast representative of his family’s firm. His new business imported clothing, fabric and other dry goods to sell in the small...

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On This Day, May 19, 1962 – Marilyn Monroe gives JFK a Very ‘Happy Birthday’

1962 – Marilyn Monroe performed a sultry rendition of “Happy Birthday” for President John F. Kennedy. The event was a fund-raiser at New York’s Madison Square Garden. 1535 – French explorer Jacques Cartier set sail for North America. 1536 – Anne Boleyn, the second wife of England’s King Henry VIII, was beheaded after she was convicted of adultery. 1568 – After being defeated by the Protestants, Mary the Queen of Scots, fled to England where she was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth. 1588 – The Spanish Armada set sail from Lisbon, bound for England. 1847 – The first English-style railroad coach was placed in service on the Fall River Line in Massachusetts. 1857 – The electric fire alarm system was patented by William F. Channing and Moses G. Farmer. 1906 – The Federated Boys’ Clubs, forerunner of the Boys’ Clubs of America, were organized. 1911 – The first American criminal...

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On This Day, May 18, 1980 – Mount St. Helens Erupts

At 8:32 a.m. PDT, Mount St. Helens, a volcanic peak in southwestern Washington, suffers a massive eruption, killing 57 people and devastating some 210 square miles of wilderness. Called Louwala-Clough, or “the Smoking Mountain,” by Native Americans, Mount St. Helens is located in the Cascade Range and stood 9,680 feet before its eruption. The volcano has erupted periodically during the last 4,500 years, and the last active period was between 1831 and 1857. On March 20, 1980, noticeable volcanic activity began again with a series of earth tremors centered on the ground just beneath the north flank of the mountain. These earthquakes escalated, and on March 27 a minor eruption occurred, and Mount St. Helens began emitting steam and ash through its crater and vents. Small eruptions continued daily, and in April people familiar with the mountain noticed changes to the structure of its north face. A scientific study...

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On This Day, May 17, 1954 – Brown v. Board of Ed is Decided

In a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance of racial segregation, specifically dealt with Linda Brown, a young African-American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin. In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” accommodations in railroad cars conformed to the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. That ruling was used to justify segregating all public facilities, including elementary schools. However, in the case of Linda Brown, the white school she attempted to attend was far superior to her black alternative and miles closer to her home. The National Association for the Advancement of...

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On This Day, May 16, 1960 – 1960 U.S.-Soviet Summit Meeting Collapses

In the wake of the Soviet downing of an American U-2 spy plane on May 1, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev lashes out at the United States and President Dwight D. Eisenhower at a Paris summit meeting between the two heads of state. Khrushchev’s outburst angered Eisenhower and doomed any chances for successful talks or negotiations at the summit. On May 1, 1960, the Soviets shot down a CIA spy plane and captured the pilot, Gary Francis Powers. The United States issued public denials that the aircraft was being used for espionage, claiming instead that it was merely a weather plane that had veered off course. The Soviets thereupon triumphantly produced Powers, large pieces of wreckage from the plane, and Powers’ admission that he was working for the CIA. The incident was a public relations fiasco for Eisenhower, who was forced to admit that the plane had indeed been spying...

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On This Day, May 15, 1978 – Governor George Wallace Shot

During an outdoor rally in Laurel, Maryland, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama and a presidential candidate, is shot by 21-year-old Arthur Bremer. Three others were wounded, and Wallace was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. The next day, while fighting for his life in a hospital, he won major primary victories in Michigan and Maryland. However, Wallace remained in the hospital for several months, bringing his third presidential campaign to an irrevocable end. Wallace, one of the most controversial politicians in U.S. history, was elected governor of Alabama in 1962 under an ultra-segregationist platform. In his 1963 inaugural address, Wallace promised his white followers: “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” However, the promise lasted only six months. In June 1963, under federal pressure, he was forced to end his blockade of the University of Alabama and allow the enrollment of African American students. Despite his failures in slowing...

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On This Day, May 14, 1998 – Frank Sinatra Dies

On this day in 1998, the legendary singer, actor and show-business icon Frank Sinatra dies of a heart attack in Los Angeles, at the age of 82. Sinatra emerged from an Italian-American family in Hoboken, New Jersey, to become the first modern superstar of popular music, with an entertainment career that spanned more than five decades. In the first incarnation of his singing career, he was a master of the romantic ballads popular during World War II. After his appeal began to wane in the late 1940s, Sinatra reinvented himself as a suave swinger with a rougher, world-weary singing style, and began a spectacular comeback in the 1950s. In addition to his great musical success, Sinatra appeared in 58 films; one of his earliest was Anchors Aweigh (1945). Playing a cocky Italian-American soldier who meets a violent death in From Here to Eternity (1953), co-starring Burt Lancaster and Montgomery...

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On This Day, May 13, 1981 – Pope John Paul II Shot

Near the start of his weekly general audience in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II is shot and seriously wounded while passing through the square in an open car. The assailant, 23-year-old escaped Turkish murderer Mehmet Ali Agca, fired four shots, one of which hit the pontiff in the abdomen, narrowly missing vital organs, and another that hit the pope’s left hand. A third bullet struck 60-year-old American Ann Odre in the chest, seriously wounding her, and the fourth hit 21-year-old Jamaican Rose Hill in the arm. Agca’s weapon was knocked out of his hand by bystanders, and he was detained until his arrest by police. The pope was rushed by ambulance to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital, where he underwent more than five hours of surgery and was listed in critical but stable condition. John Paul II, once the spiritual leader of almost 600 million Roman Catholics around...

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On This Day, May 12, 1963 – Bob Dylan Walks out on The Ed Sullivan Show

By the end of the summer of 1963, Bob Dylan would be known to millions who watched or witnessed his performances at the March on Washington, and millions more who did not know Dylan himself would know and love his music thanks to Peter, Paul and Mary’s smash-hit cover version of “Blowin’ In The Wind.” But back in May, Dylan was still just another aspiring musician with a passionate niche following but no national profile whatsoever. His second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, had not yet been released, but he had secured what would surely be his big break with an invitation to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. That appearance never happened. On May 12, 1963, the young and unknown Bob Dylan walked off the set of the country’s highest-rated variety show after network censors rejected the song he planned on performing. The song that caused the flap...

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On This Day, May 11, 1981 – Bob Marley Dies

In what would prove to be the next to the last concert of his tragically short life, Bob Marley shared the bill at Madison Square Garden with the hugely popular American funk band The Commodores. With no costumes, no choreography and no set design to speak of, “The reggae star had the majority of his listeners on their feet and in the palm of his hand,” according to New York Times critic Robert Palmer. “After this show of strength, and Mr. Marley’s intense singing and electric stage presence, the Commodores were a letdown.” Only days after his triumphant shows in New York City, Bob Marley collapsed while jogging in Central Park and later received a grim diagnosis: a cancerous growth on an old soccer injury on his big toe had metastasized and spread to Marley’s brain, liver and lungs. Less than eight months later, on May 11, 1981, Bob...

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On This Day, May 10, 1676 – Bacon’s Rebellion Begins

  1676 – Bacon’s Rebellion, which pits frontiersmen against the government, began.  Bacon’s Rebellion was probably one of the most confusing yet intriguing chapters in Jamestown’s history. For many years, historians considered the Virginia Rebellion of 1676 to be the first stirring of revolutionary sentiment in America, which culminated in the American Revolution almost exactly one hundred years later. However, in the past few decades, based on findings from a more distant viewpoint, historians have come to understand Bacon’s Rebellion as a power struggle between two stubborn, selfish leaders rather than a glorious fight against tyranny. In the face of a brewing catastrophe, Berkeley, to keep the peace, was willing to forget that Bacon was not authorized to take the law into his own hands. Berkeley agreed to pardon Bacon if he turned himself in, so he could be sent to England and tried before King Charles II. It...

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On This Day, May 9, 1974 – House Begins Nixon Impeachment Hearings

1974 – The House Judiciary Committee began formal hearings on the Nixon impeachment.  On July 27 of that year, the first article of impeachment against the president was passed. Two more articles, for abuse of power and contempt of Congress, were approved on July 29 and 30. On August 5, Nixon complied with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring that he provide transcripts of the missing tapes, and the new evidence clearly implicated him in a cover up of the Watergate break-in. On August 8, Nixon announced his resignation, becoming the first president in U.S. history to voluntarily leave office. After departing the White House on August 9, Nixon was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford, who, in a controversial move, pardoned Nixon on September 8, 1974, making it impossible for the former president to be prosecuted for any crimes he might have committed while in office. Only two other presidents in U.S. history have been impeached:...

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On This Day, May 8, 1956 – Alfred E. Neuman Fails to Worry

  1956 – Alfred E. Neuman appeared on the cover of “Mad Magazine” for the first time.  Alfred owes his place in history to four men. The first was MAD’s first editor, Harvey Kurtzman, who glimpsed the grinning face, captioned “Me worry?” on a postcard in 1954. “It was a kid that didn’t have a care in the world, except mischief,” Kurtzman recalled. The boy soon made his way into the pages of the magazine, though he was as yet unnamed. Kurtzman had been using the Neuman name mostly because it had the ring of a nonentity — although there was a Hollywood composer named Alfred Newman. Misspelled, with the added “E,” it too was integrated into the magazine. When Al Feldstein replaced Kurtzman as editor, he decided to link “Alfred E. Neuman” with the face of the idiot kid. The idiot kid made his official debut in 1956...

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On This Day, May 7, 1940 – Winston Churchill Becomes Prime Minister

  1940 – Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister.  Although Churchill’s appointment as prime minister was not initially welcomed by many of his political colleagues, he did enjoy widespread public support. He was greeted by cheering crowds outside Downing Street and his appointment was celebrated by David Low in his ‘All behind you, Winston’ cartoon, published in the Evening Standard newspaper on 14 May 1940. Once he had taken office, Churchill wrote that he felt he was ‘walking with destiny’. Three days later he told the House of Commons that he had ‘nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’, and set the mood of the nation by declaring the British aim was, ‘Victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival’. 1429 – The English siege of Orleans was broken...

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On This Day, May 6, 1937 – The Hindenburg Goes Up in Flames

1937 – The German airship Hindenburg, the largest dirigible ever built, explodes as it arrives in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Thirty-six people died in the fiery accident that has since become iconic, in part because of the live radio broadcast of the disaster. The dirigible was built to be the fastest, largest and most luxurious flying vessel of its time. It was more than 800 feet long, had a range of 8,000 miles, could carry 97 passengers and had a state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz engine. It was filled with 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen, even though helium was known to be far safer, because it made the flying ship more maneuverable. The Hindenburg was scheduled to arrive in New Jersey at 5 a.m. on May 6. However, weather conditions pushed the arrival back to the late afternoon and then rain further delayed the docking at Lakehurst. When the dirigible was finally cleared to dock,...

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On This Day, May 5, 1925, John Scopes Arrested for Teaching Evolution

1925 – John T. Scopes, a biology teacher in Dayton, TN, was arrested for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. In 1925 the Tennessee legislature passed the Butler Act which made it a misdemeanor to teach the evolution of only one species — mankind — in public schools.  The evolution of 99.9999% of all other plant and animal life (about two million other species), or the evolution of the earth or the solar system, could all be taught as either compelling theory or proven fact without violating the Butler Act. John Scopes, a high school football coach and mathematics teacher who only substituted for Dayton’s regular biology teacher, never taught evolution to anybody.  As he confided to acclaimed newspaper reporter, William K. Hutchinson, “I didn’t violate the law. . .  .  I never taught that evolution lesson.  Those kids they put on the stand couldn’t remember what I taught them three...

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On This Day, May 4, 1970 – National Guard Kills Four at Kent State

In Kent, Ohio, 28 National Guardsmen fire their weapons at a group of antiwar demonstrators on the Kent State University campus, killing four students, wounding eight, and permanently paralyzing another. Two days earlier, the National Guard troops were called to Kent to suppress students rioting in protest of the Vietnam War and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. The next day, scattered protests were dispersed by tear gas, and on May 4 class resumed at Kent State University. By noon that day, despite a ban on rallies, some 2,000 people had assembled on the campus. National Guard troops arrived and ordered the crowd to disperse, fired tear gas, and advanced against the students with bayonets fixed on their rifles. Some of the protesters, refusing to yield, responded by throwing rocks and verbally taunting the troops. Minutes later, without firing a warning shot, the Guardsmen discharged more than 60 rounds toward...

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On This Day, May 3, 2007 – British Girl Goes Missing in Portugal

On this day in 2007, less than two weeks before her fourth birthday, Madeleine McCann of Rothley, England, vanishes during a family vacation at a resort in southern Portugal. McCann’s disappearance prompted an international search; however, she has never been found. In May 2007, the McCann family—parents Gerry and Kate McCann, Madeleine and her 2-year-old twin siblings Sean and Amelie—were vacationing with a group of friends at the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz (“Beach of Light”), a tourist village along Portugal’s Algarve coast. On the evening of May 3, Gerry and Kate McCann went with friends to the Ocean Club’s tapas bar, leaving a sleeping Madeleine and her brother and sister in the family’s ground-floor apartment, located near the tapas bar. The McCanns and their friends agreed to check on the children every half hour. At around 10 p.m., Kate McCann went to the apartment and discovered...

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On This Day, May 2, 1933 – Loch Ness Monster Sighted

Although accounts of an aquatic beast living in Scotland’s Loch Ness date back 1,500 years, the modern legend of the Loch Ness Monster is born when a sighting makes local news on May 2, 1933. The newspaper Inverness Courier related an account of a local couple who claimed to have seen “an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface.” The story of the “monster” (a moniker chosen by the Courier editor) became a media phenomenon, with London newspapers sending correspondents to Scotland and a circus offering a 20,000 pound sterling reward for capture of the beast. Loch Ness, located in the Scottish Highlands, has the largest volume of fresh water in Great Britain; the body of water reaches a depth of nearly 800 feet and a length of about 23 miles. Scholars of the Loch Ness Monster find a dozen references to “Nessie” in Scottish history, dating back...

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On This Day, May 1, 1960 – American U-2 Spy Plane Shot Down

An American U-2 spy plane is shot down while conducting espionage over the Soviet Union. The incident derailed an important summit meeting between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that was scheduled for later that month. The U-2 spy plane was the brainchild of the Central Intelligence Agency, and it was a sophisticated technological marvel. Traveling at altitudes of up to 70,000 feet, the aircraft was equipped with state-of-the-art photography equipment that could, the CIA boasted, take high-resolution pictures of headlines in Russian newspapers as it flew overhead. Flights over the Soviet Union began in mid-1956. The CIA assured President Eisenhower that the Soviets did not possess anti-aircraft weapons sophisticated enough to shoot down the high-altitude planes. On May 1, 1960, a U-2 flight piloted by Francis Gary Powers disappeared while on a flight over Russia. The CIA reassured the president that, even if the plane...

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On This Day, Apr, 30, 1945 – Adolf Hitler Commits Suicide

On this day in 1945, holed up in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf Hitler commits suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. Soon after, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, ending Hitler’s dreams of a “1,000-year” Reich. Since at least 1943, it was becoming increasingly clear that Germany would fold under the pressure of the Allied forces. In February of that year, the German 6th Army, lured deep into the Soviet Union, was annihilated at the Battle of Stalingrad, and German hopes for a sustained offensive on both fronts evaporated. Then, in June 1944, the Western Allied armies landed at Normandy, France, and began systematically to push the Germans back toward Berlin. By July 1944, several German military commanders acknowledged their imminent defeat and plotted to remove Hitler from power so as to negotiate a more favorable peace. Their attempts...

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On This Day, Apr 29, 1974 – Nixon Announces Release of Watergate Tapes

On this day in 1974, President Richard Nixon announces to the public that he will release transcripts of 46 taped White House conversations in response to a Watergate trial subpoena issued in July 1973. The House Judiciary committee accepted 1,200 pages of transcripts the next day, but insisted that the tapes themselves be turned over as well. In his announcement, Nixon took elaborate pains to explain to the public his reluctance to comply with the subpoena, and the nature of the content he planned to release. He cited his right to executive privilege to protect state secrets and stated that the transcripts were edited by him and his advisors to omit anything “irrelevant” to the Watergate investigation or critical to national security. He invited committee members to review the actual tapes to determine whether or not the president had omitted incriminating evidence in the transcripts. “I want there to...

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On This Day, Apr 28, 1967 – Muhammad Ali Refuses Army Induction

On April 28, 1967, boxing champion Muhammad Ali refuses to be inducted into the U.S. Army and is immediately stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali, a Muslim, cited religious reasons for his decision to forgo military service. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 14, 1942, the future three-time world champ changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964 after converting to Islam. He scored a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and made his professional boxing debut against Tunney Husaker on October 29, 1960, winning the bout in six rounds. On February 25, 1964, he defeated the heavily favored bruiser Sonny Liston in six rounds to become heavyweight champ. On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Viet Cong.” On June...

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On This Day, April 27, 1989 – Student protesters take over Tiananmen Square

  1989 – Student protestors took over Tiananmen Square in Beijing. April 27, 1989 is arguably the most glorious day of the 1989 student movement. On this day, hundreds of thousands of college students in Beijing walked out of their campuses, despite that the demonstration was canceled at the last minute under the pressure and in the face of the new People’s Daily editorial which accused their movement as a deadly turmoil. The Chinese government condemned the protests as a “counter-revolutionary riot”, and has prohibited all forms of discussion or remembrance of the events since. Due to the lack of information from China, many aspects of the events remain unknown or unconfirmed. Estimates of the death toll range from a few hundred to the thousands. 1509 – Pope Julius II excommunicated the Italian state of Venice. Venice had taken control of the cities of Faenza, Rimini and Ravenna to extend...

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On This Day, April 26, 1865 – Union Troops Track Down and Kill John Wilkes Booth

1865 – John Wilkes Booth is killed when Union soldiers track him down to a Virginia farm, 12 days after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Twenty-six-year-old Booth was one of the most famous actors in the country when he shot Lincoln during a performance at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., on the night of April 14. Booth was a Maryland native and a strong supporter of the Confederacy. As the war entered its final stages, Booth hatched a conspiracy to kidnap the president. He enlisted the aid of several associates, but the opportunity never presented itself. After the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, Booth changed the plan to a simultaneous assassination of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward. Only Lincoln was actually killed, however. Seward was stabbed by Lewis Paine but survived, while the...

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On This Day, April 25, 1953 – Watson and Crick Propose Double Helix DNA Structure

1953 – Dr. James D. Watson and Dr. Francis H.C. Crick suggested the double helix structure of DNA. In the early 1950s, the race to discover DNA was on. At Cambridge University, graduate student Francis Crick and research fellow James Watson (b. 1928) had become interested, impressed especially by Pauling’s work. Meanwhile at King’s College in London, Maurice Wilkins (b. 1916) and Rosalind Franklin were also studying DNA. The Cambridge team’s approach was to make physical models to narrow down the possibilities and eventually create an accurate picture of the molecule. The King’s team took an experimental approach, looking particularly at x-ray diffraction images of DNA. In 1951, Watson attended a lecture by Franklin on her work to date. She had found that DNA can exist in two forms, depending on the relative humidity in the surrounding air. This had helped her deduce that the phosphate part of the molecule was on the...

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On This Day, April 24, 1948 – The Berlin Airlift Starts

  1948 – The Berlin airlift began to relieve the surrounded city. When the blockade by the USSR began, the Soviets rejoiced, because they believed the Western powers had only one option, to leave Berlin.  But they underestimated the West airlift supplies.  Gen. Clay called upon General Curtis E. LeMay, commander of USAFE and asked him if he could haul supplies to Berlin.  LeMay responded, “We can haul anything”.  Two days later Gen. LeMay called upon Brig. Gen. Joseph Smith, Commander of the Wiesbaden Military Post, and appointed him Task Force Commander of an airlift operation estimated to last a few weeks.  The only US aircraft initially available were 102 C-47’s and 2 C-54 Skymasters.  On June 26, the first C-47’s landed at Tempelhof Airfield, foreshadowing the great operation that was to come.  Smith dubbed the mission “Operation Vittles”, because he said “We’re haulin‘ grub.”  The British called their...

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On This Day, April 23, 1778 – Harry Truman Gives Hell to the Soviet Union

1945 – Less than two weeks after taking over as president after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman gives a tongue-lashing to Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. The incident indicated that Truman was determined to take a “tougher” stance with the Soviets than his predecessor had. When Roosevelt died of a massive stroke on April 12, 1945, Harry S. Truman took over as president. Truman was overwhelmed by the responsibilities so suddenly thrust upon him and, particularly in terms of foreign policy, the new president was uncertain about his approach. Roosevelt had kept his vice-president in the dark about most diplomatic decisions, not even informing Truman about the secret program to develop an atomic bomb. Truman had to learn quickly, however. The approaching end of World War II meant that momentous decisions about the postwar world needed to be made quickly. The primary issue Truman faced...

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On This Day, April 22, 1970 – US Comes Together to Celebrate First Earth Day

1970 – Earth Day, an event to increase public awareness of the world’s environmental problems, is celebrated in the United States for the first time. Millions of Americans, including students from thousands of colleges and universities, participated in rallies, marches, and educational programs. Earth Day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, a staunch environmentalist who hoped to provide unity to the grassroots environmental movement and increase ecological awareness. “The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, “and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.” Earth Day indeed increased environmental awareness in America, and in July of that year the Environmental Protection Agency was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation. Loads of chemicals and hazardous wastes have...

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On This Day, April 21, 1918 –German Ace Red Baron Brought Down by Allied Fire

1918 – In the skies over Vauz sur Somme, France, Manfred von Richthofen, the notorious German flying ace known as “The Red Baron,” is killed by Allied fire. Richthofen, the son of a Prussian nobleman, switched from the German army to the Imperial Air Service in 1915. By 1916, he was terrorizing the skies over the western front in an Albatross biplane, downing 15 enemy planes by the end of the year, including one piloted by British flying ace Major Lanoe Hawker. In 1917, Richthofen surpassed all flying ace records on both sides of the western front and began using a Fokker triplane, painted entirely red in tribute to his old cavalry regiment. Although only used during the last eight months of his career, it is this aircraft that Richthofen was most commonly associated with and it led to an enduring English nickname for the German pilot – the...

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On This Day, April 20, 1980 – Mass Exodus of Cubans Flee to US as Mariel Boatlift Begins

1980 – The Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day. The boatlift was precipitated by housing and job shortages caused by the ailing Cuban economy, leading to simmering internal tensions on the island. On April 1, Hector Sanyustiz and four others drove a bus through a fence at the Peruvian embassy and were granted political asylum. Cuban guards on the street opened fire. One guard was killed in the crossfire. The Cuban government demanded the five be returned for trial in the dead guard’s death. But when the Peruvian government refused, Castro withdrew his guards from the embassy on Good Friday, April 4. By Easter Sunday, April 6, some 10,000 Cubans crowded into the...

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On This Day, Apr 19, 1989 – Central Park Jogger Attack Shocks New York City

On this day in 1989, a 28-year-old female investment banker is severely beaten and sexually assaulted while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. Five teenagers from Harlem were convicted of the crime, which shocked New Yorkers for its randomness and viciousness and became emblematic of the perceived lawlessness of the city at the time. The case was also racially divisive, as the teens were black and Hispanic and the victim was white. The “Central Park jogger,” as she became known in the media, was discovered by passerby in a muddy ravine, her skull smashed and near death, hours after she went for a jog in the park around 9 p.m. After being rescued, she spent nearly two weeks in a coma, but surprised doctors by eventually recovering from most of her injuries. However, she remembered nothing about the near-fatal attack or the events leading up to it. Police...

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On This Day, Apr, 18, 1983 – Suicide Bomber Destroys U.S. Embassy in Beirut

The U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, is almost completely destroyed by a car-bomb explosion that kills 63 people, including the suicide bomber and 17 Americans. The terrorist attack was carried out in protest of the U.S. military presence in Lebanon. In 1975, a bloody civil war erupted in Lebanon, with Palestinian and leftist Muslim guerrillas battling militias of the Christian Phalange Party, the Maronite Christian community, and other groups. During the next few years, Syrian, Israeli, and United Nations interventions failed to resolve the factional fighting, and on August 20, 1982, a multinational force featuring U.S. Marines landed in Beirut to oversee the Palestinian withdrawal from Lebanon. The Marines left Lebanese territory on September 10 but returned on September 29, following the massacre of Palestinian refugees by a Christian militia. The next day, the first U.S. Marine to die during the mission was killed while defusing a bomb, and...

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On This Day, Apr. 17, 1960 – Eddie Cochran Dies, and Gene Vincent is Injured, in a UK Car Accident

Eddie Cochran, the man behind “Summertime Blues” and “C’mon Everybody,” was killed on this day in 1960 when the taxi carrying him from a show in Bristol, England, crashed en route to the airport in London, where he was to catch a flight back home to the United States. A raw and exciting rocker with a cocky, rebellious image, Eddie Cochran was very different from the polished and packaged idols being heavily marketed to American teenagers in the years between the rise of Elvis Presley and the arrival of the Beatles. And while he may have faded from popular memory in the years since his tragic and early death, his biggest hits have not. Cochran was on a triumphant concert tour of Britain in the spring of 1960—a tour that had been extended 10 weeks beyond its scheduled run due to intense demand for tickets. In America, a tamer...

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On This Day, Apr. 16, 2007 – Massacre at Virginia Tech leaves 32 dead

On this day in 2007, in one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history, 32 students and teachers die after being gunned down on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University by Seung Hui Cho, a student at the school who later dies from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The violence began around 7:15 a.m., when Cho, a 23-year-old senior and English major at Blacksburg-based Virginia Tech, shot a female freshman and a male resident assistant in a campus dormitory before fleeing the building. Police were soon on the scene; unaware of the gunman’s identity, they initially pursued the female victim’s boyfriend as a suspect in what they believed to be an isolated domestic-violence incident. However, at around 9:40 a.m., Cho, armed with a 9-millimeter handgun, a 22-caliber handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, entered a classroom building, chained and locked several main doors and went from...

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On This Day, Apr 15, 1920 – The Sacco-Vanzetti Case Draws National Attention

A paymaster and a security guard are killed during a mid-afternoon armed robbery of a shoe company in South Braintree, Massachusetts. Out of this rather unremarkable crime grew one of the most famous trials in American history and a landmark case in forensic crime detection. Both Fred Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli were shot several times as they attempted to move the payroll boxes of their New England shoe company. The two armed thieves, identified by witnesses as “Italian-looking,” fled in a Buick. The car was found abandoned in the woods several days later. Through evidence found in the car, police suspected that a man named Mike Boda was involved. However, Boda was one step ahead of the authorities, and he fled to Italy. Police did manage to catch Boda’s colleagues, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were each carrying loaded weapons at the time of their arrest. Sacco had a...

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On This Day, Apr 14, 1912 – RMS Titanic Hits Iceberg

Just before midnight in the North Atlantic, the RMS Titanic fails to divert its course from an iceberg, ruptures its hull, and begins to sink. Four days earlier, the Titanic, one of the largest and most luxurious ocean liners ever built, departed Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. While leaving port, the massive ship came within a couple of feet of the steamer New York but passed safely by, causing a general sigh of relief from the passengers massed on the ship’s decks. The Titanic was designed by the Irish shipbuilder William Pirrie and spanned 883 feet from stern to bow. Its hull was divided into 16 compartments that were presumed to be watertight. Because four of these compartments could be flooded without causing a critical loss of buoyancy, the Titanic was considered unsinkable. On its first journey across the highly competitive Atlantic ferry route,...

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On This Day, April 13, 1964 – Sidney Poitier Breaks Oscar Color Barrier

1964 – Sidney Poitier became the first black to win an Oscar for best actor. It was for his role in the movie Lilies of the Field. He won for his role in Lilies of the Field (he had also been nominated for best actor for The Defiant Ones five years earlier), and though it was a tremendous breakthrough in terms of diversity, it’s also worth noting that when Ann Bancroft gave him a kiss on the cheek when presenting him with the Oscar, some people were offended. That was the world in 1964, the world in which Poitier and everyone else of color lived. Whatever accomplishments they enjoyed did not erase the reality of racism that surrounded them. And though it would be nice to say that Poitier’s win brought down the barriers, at least to some extent, it would be 38 years before another African-American actor won...

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On This Day, April 12, 1861 – The Civil War Begins

1861 – Fort Sumter was shelled by Confederacy, starting America’s Civil War. The Civil War might as easily have erupted at Fort Pickens, outside Pensacola, Florida, as at Fort Sumter but Fort Sumter was positioned in the middle of Charleston Harbor, surrounded by hostile batteries. Sumter, therefore, became a symbol of contested sovereignty. Neither the new President nor the new Confederacy could afford to lose face by surrendering the Charleston fort. The only question was, who would shoot first? In early January the South Carolinians had actually done so, turning away the Star of the West, a federal supply ship, with gunfire. But those were more or less warning shots that kicked up plumes of spray but caused no damage. The Confederate government, knowing that its claims to sovereignty depended on no “foreign” power occupying any of its coastal forts, decided to act before the relief expedition arrived. Confederate...

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On This Day, April 11, 1947 – Jackie Robinson Plays in First Game

1947 – Jackie Robinson became the first black player in major-league history. He played in an exhibition game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. At UCLA, Jackie became the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. In 1941, he was named to the All-American football team. Due to financial difficulties, he was forced to leave college, and eventually decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. After two years in the army, he had progressed to second lieutenant. Jackie’s army career was cut short when he was court-martialed in relation to his objections with incidents of racial discrimination. In the end, Jackie left the Army with an honorable discharge. In 1945, Jackie played one season in the Negro Baseball League, traveling all over the Midwest with the Kansas City Monarchs. But greater challenges and achievements were in store for him. In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president...

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On This Day, April 10, 1778 – John Paul Jones Truly Does Start to Fight

1778 – Commander John Paul Jones and his crew of 140 men aboard the USS Ranger set sail from the naval port at Brest, France, and head toward the Irish Sea to begin raids on British warships. This was the first mission of its kind during the Revolutionary War. After departing from Brest, Jones successfully executed raids on two forts in England’s Whitehaven Harbor, despite a disgruntled crew more interested in “gain than honor.” Jones then continued to his home territory of Kirkcudbright Bay, Scotland, where he intended to abduct the Earl of Selkirk and then exchange him for American sailors held captive by Britain. Although he did not find the earl at home, Jones crew was able to steal all his silver, including his wife s teapot, still containing her breakfast tea. From Scotland, Jones sailed across the Irish Sea to Carrickfergus, where the Ranger captured the HMS Drake...

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On This Day, April 9, 1965 – Lee Surrenders the Army of the Confederacy

1865 – At Appomattox, Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders his 28,000 troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War. Forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond, blocked from joining the surviving Confederate force in North Carolina, and harassed constantly by Union cavalry, Lee had no other option. In retreating from the Union army’s Appomattox Campaign, the Army of Northern Virginia had stumbled through the Virginia countryside stripped of food and supplies. At one point, Union cavalry forces under General Philip Sheridan had actually outrun Lee’s army, blocking their retreat and taking 6,000 prisoners at Sayler’s Creek. Desertions were mounting daily, and by April 8 the Confederates were surrounded with no possibility of escape. On April 9, Lee sent a message to Grant announcing his willingness to surrender. The two generals met in the parlor of the Wilmer McLean home at one...

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On This Day, April 8, 1513 – Ponce de León Claims Florida for Spain

1513 – Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain. In 1493, Ponce de León sailed with Christopher Columbus on Columbus’ second voyage to the Americas. He and his family settled on an island in the Caribbean named Hispaniola (Dominican Republic). He became a military commander at this post and was appointed deputy governor. In 1506, Ponce de León discovered a nearby island named Borinquen. While there, he found large deposits of gold. Soon after his discovery, he left the island. He returned in 1508 on orders from the king of Spain to explore and colonize the island. He renamed the island Puerto Rico. He was the island’s governor for two years until the king replaced him with Columbus’ son. Hurt by the King’s action, Ponce de León sailed again, this time north through the Bahamas heading towards Florida. He was in search of new lands and treasures....

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On This Day, April 7, 1953 – IBM Releases First Scientific Computer

1953 – IBM unveiled the IBM 701 Electronic Data Processing Machine. It was IBM’s first commercially available scientific computer. Designed to shatter the time barrier confronting technicians working on vital defense projects, the 701 is being manufactured in IBM’s Poughkeepsie, N.Y., plant where production-line techniques of assembly and standardization are used. Composed of eleven compact and connected units known as IBM Electronic Data Processing Machines, the 701 is the first calculator of comparable capacity to be produced in quantity. A total of eighteen will be built within a year, all consigned to government agencies or defense industries. Using three of the more advanced electronic storage or memory devices — cathode ray tubes, magnetic drums and magnetic tapes — the calculator can multiply and divide more than 2,000 times a second and can add and subtract more than 16,000 times a second. The calculators, which will rent for $11,900 monthly...

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On This Day, Apr. 6, 1970 – Sam Sheppard Dies

On this day in 1970, Sam Sheppard, a doctor convicted of murdering his pregnant wife in a trial that caused a media frenzy in the 1950s, dies of liver failure. After a decade in prison, Sheppard was released following a re-trial. His story is rumored to have loosely inspired the television series and movie “The Fugitive.” On July 4, 1954, Sheppard’s wife Marilyn was beaten to death in the couple’s Bay Village, Ohio, home. Sheppard, an osteopathic doctor, contended the “bushy-haired” attacker had beaten him as well. The Sheppards’ son slept through the murder in a bedroom down the hall. Sam Sheppard was arrested for murder and stood trial in the fall of 1954. The case generated massive media attention, and some members of the press were accused of supporting the perception that Sheppard was guilty. Prosecutors argued that Sheppard was motivated to kill his wife because he was...

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On This Day Apr. 5, 1994 – Kurt Cobain Commits Suicide

Modern rock icon Kurt Cobain commits suicide on this day in 1994. His body was discovered inside his home in Seattle, Washington, three days later by Gary Smith, an electrician, who was installing a security system in the suburban house. Despite indications that Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, killed himself, several skeptics questioned the circumstances of his death and pinned responsibility on his wife, Courtney Love. At least two books, including one penned by Love’s estranged father, and a nationally released documentary, Kurt & Courtney, openly expressed doubt that Cobain killed himself and all but accused Love of having her husband killed. Her volatile reputation and healthy list of enemies helped to circulate the rumors. However, police have concluded that Cobain’s death was the result of suicide. Cobain’s downward spiral began taking shape in Italy the previous month. He went into a coma and nearly died after mixing...

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On this Day, Apr. 4, 1968 – Martin Luther King Jr. is Assassinated

Martin Luther King Jr. is shot to death at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. A single shot fired by James Earl Ray from over 200 feet away at a nearby motel struck King in the neck. He died an hour later at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The death of America’s leading civil rights advocate sparked a wave of rioting in the black communities of several cities around the country. Ray, who had escaped from a Missouri prison almost a year earlier, had used the aliases Eric Galt and John Willard to register in several motels in the Memphis area. He fired a Remington rifle from a bathroom window that looked out onto the hotel balcony where King was standing. Ray fled to Canada, where he stayed for a month. Meanwhile, the FBI placed him on the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List. After buying a passport under the name Sneyd, Ray...

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On This Day, Apr 3, 1882 – Jesse James Murdered

One of America’s most famous criminals, Jesse James, is shot to death by fellow gang member Bob Ford, who betrayed James for reward money. For 16 years, Jesse and his brother, Frank, committed robberies and murders throughout the Midwest. Detective magazines and pulp novels glamorized the James gang, turning them into mythical Robin Hoods who were driven to crime by unethical landowners and bankers. In reality, Jesse James was a ruthless killer who stole only for himself. The teenage James brothers joined up with southern guerrilla leaders when the Civil War broke out. Both participated in massacres of settlers and troops affiliated with the North. After the war was over, the quiet farming life of the James brothers’ youth no longer seemed enticing, and the two turned to crime. Jesse’s first bank robbery occurred on February 13, 1866, in Liberty, Missouri. Over the next couple of years, the James...

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On This Day, Apr. 2, 1992 – Mob Boss John Gotti Convicted of Murder

A jury in New York finds mobster John Gotti, nicknamed the Teflon Don for his ability to elude conviction, guilty on 13 counts, including murder and racketeering. In the wake of the conviction, the assistant director of the FBI’s New York office, James Fox, was quoted as saying, “The don is covered in Velcro, and every charge stuck.” On June 23 of that year, Gotti was sentenced to life in prison, dealing a significant blow to organized crime. John Joseph Gotti, Jr., was born in the Bronx, New York, on October 27, 1940. He rose through the ranks of the Gambino crime family and seized power after ordering the December 1985 murder of then-boss Paul Castellano outside a Manhattan steakhouse. Behind closed doors, Gotti was a ruthless, controlling figure. Publicly, he became a tabloid celebrity, famous for his swagger and expensive suits, which earned him another nickname, the Dapper...

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On This Day, Apr 1, 1700 – April Fools Tradition Popularized

On this day in 1700, English pranksters begin popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day by playing practical jokes on each other. Although the day, also called All Fools’ Day, has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures, its exact origins remain a mystery. Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes. These included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish...

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On This Day, Mar 31, 1889 – The Eiffel Tower Opens

On March 31, 1889, the Eiffel Tower is dedicated in Paris in a ceremony presided over by Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s designer, and attended by French Prime Minister Pierre Tirard, a handful of other dignitaries, and 200 construction workers. In 1889, to honor of the centenary of the French Revolution, the French government planned an international exposition and announced a design competition for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris. Out of more than 100 designs submitted, the Centennial Committee chose Eiffel’s plan of an open-lattice wrought-iron tower that would reach almost 1,000 feet above Paris and be the world’s tallest man-made structure. Eiffel, a noted bridge builder, was a master of metal construction and designed the framework of the Statue of Liberty that had recently been erected in New York Harbor. Eiffel’s tower was greeted with skepticism from critics who argued that it would...

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On This Day, March 30, 1950 – Harry Truman Denounces Joe McCarthy

1950 –President Harry Truman denounces Senator Joe McCarthy as a saboteur of U.S. foreign policy.  This was the reaction of President Harry Truman to Loyalty Investigation, “News Conference at Key West,” March 30, 1950 Q. Do you think that Senator McCarthy can show any disloyalty exists in the State Department? The President. I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy. Q. Would you care to elaborate on that? The President. I don’t think it needs any elaboration—I don’t think it needs any elaboration. Q. Brother, will that hit page one tomorrow! Q. If you think we are going to bust down the fence on what you have got later, that’s a pretty good starter. Q. Mr. President, could we quote that one phrase, “I think the greatest asset the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy”? The President. Now let me give you a little preliminary, and...

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On This Day, March 29, 1979 – JFK Assassination Ruled a Conspiracy

1979 – The Committee on Assassinations Report issued by U.S. House of Representatives stated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was the result of a conspiracy. I. Findings of the Select Committee on Assassination in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at President John F. Kennedy. The second and third shots he fired struck the President. The third shot he fired killed the President  Scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F. Kennedy. Other scientific evidence does not preclude the possibility of two gunmen firing at the President. Scientific evidence negates some specific conspiracy allegations The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee was unable to identify the other gunmen or the extent of...

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On This Day, March 28, 1979 – Three Mile Island Reactor Nears Meltdown

1979 – At 4 a.m. on March 28, 1979, the worst accident in the history of the U.S. nuclear power industry begins when a pressure valve in the Unit-2 reactor at Three Mile Island fails to close. Cooling water, contaminated with radiation, drained from the open valve into adjoining buildings, and the core began to dangerously overheat. After the cooling water began to drain, emergency cooling pumps automatically went into operation. Left alone, these safety devices would have prevented the development of a larger crisis. However, human operators in the control room misread confusing and contradictory readings and shut off the emergency water system. The reactor was also shut down, but residual heat from the fission process was still being released. By early morning, the core had heated to over 4,000 degrees, just 1,000 degrees short of meltdown. As the plant operators struggled to understand what had happened, the...

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On This Day, March 27, 1866 – Andrew Johnson Vetoes Civil Rights for Blacks

1866 – U.S. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the civil rights bill, which later became the 14th amendment. A little over a month after becoming president, Johnson began executing his plan for reconstructing the South. Johnson pardoned all rebels except Confederate leaders. He also restored all rebel property except for slaves. Finally, he authorized each rebel state to call a convention of white delegates to draw up a new constitution. Once completed, a new state government could then be formed, and the state could apply for readmission to the Union. During the summer of 1865, the rebel states held their constitutional conventions, followed by elections to choose state and federal government representatives. None of the new state constitutions allowed the black freedmen to vote. President Johnson himself opposed the idea of ex-slaves voting. “It would breed a war of races,” Johnson said. When Congress finally met in early December, the...

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On This Day, March 26, 1943 – Nazis Begin Mass Transportation of Jews to Auschwitz

1942 – The Nazis began mass transportation of Jews to Auschwitz in Poland. People were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau by trains, from all over Nazi-occupied Europe. They were generally sent in freight cars or cattle trucks. Often they travelled for days without toilet facilities and with nothing to eat or drink. Originally, the railway cars arrived at the old ramp of Birkenau, 1 km southeast of the entrance gate. From May 1944 they continued into Auschwitz II (Birkenau / Brzezinka) itself, along a specially constructed spur. The majority of the people, sent in these transports, were murdered in gas chambers directly on arrival. Their names never appeared in the camp records, so that it is very difficult to determine precisely how many perished from these transports. Those the SS deemed fit for work were not murdered immediately but were used as slave labourers. They were given striped prison clothing and a prisoner...

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On This Day, March 25, 1911 – Fire Breaks Out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company 

1911 – In New York City, 146 women were killed in fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City. On Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. Firefighters arrived at the scene, but their ladders weren’t tall enough to reach the upper floors of the 10-story building. Trapped inside because the owners had locked the fire escape exit doors, workers jumped to their deaths. In a half an hour, the fire was over, and 146 of the 500 workers—mostly young women — were dead. The shirtwaist makers, as young as age 15, worked seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a half-hour lunch break. During the busy season, the work was nearly non-stop. They were paid about $6 per week. In some cases, they were required to use their own needles, thread, irons...

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On This Day, March 24, 1989 – The Exxon Valdez Runs Aground

1989 – The Exxon Valdez spilled 240,000 barrels (11 million gallons) of oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound after it ran aground. On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez, en route from Valdez, Alaska to Los Angeles, California, ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The vessel was traveling outside normal shipping lanes in an attempt to avoid ice. Within six hours of the grounding, the Exxon Valdez spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of its 53 million gallon cargo of Prudhoe Bay crude oil. Eight of the eleven tanks on board were damaged. The oil would eventually impact over 1,100 miles of non-continuous coastline in Alaska, making the Exxon Valdez the largest oil spill to date in U.S. waters. The response to the Exxon Valdez involved more personnel and equipment over a longer period of time than did any other spill in U.S. history. Logistical...

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On This Day, Mar. 23, 1919, Mussolini Founds the Fascist party

Benito Mussolini, an Italian World War I veteran and publisher of Socialist newspapers, breaks with the Italian Socialists and establishes the nationalist Fasci di Combattimento, named after the Italian peasant revolutionaries, or “Fighting Bands,” from the 19th century. Commonly known as the Fascist Party, Mussolini’s new right-wing organization advocated Italian nationalism, had black shirts for uniforms, and launched a program of terrorism and intimidation against its leftist opponents. In October 1922, Mussolini led the Fascists on a march on Rome, and King Emmanuel III, who had little faith in Italy’s parliamentary government, asked Mussolini to form a new government. Initially, Mussolini, who was appointed prime minister at the head of a three-member Fascist cabinet, cooperated with the Italian parliament, but aided by his brutal police organization he soon became the effective dictator of Italy. In 1924, a Socialist backlash was suppressed, and in January 1925 a Fascist state was...

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On This Day, Mar 22, 1947 -Truman Orders Loyalty Checks of Federal Employees

In response to public fears and Congressional investigations into communism in the United States, President Harry S. Truman issues an executive decree establishing a sweeping loyalty investigation of federal employees. As the Cold War began to develop after World War II, fears concerning communist activity in the United States, particularly in the federal government, increased. Congress had already launched investigations of communist influence in Hollywood, and laws banning communists from teaching positions were being instituted in several states. Of most concern to the Truman administration, however, were persistent charges that communists were operating in federal offices. In response to these fears and concerns, Truman issued an executive order on March 21, 1947, which set up a program to check the loyalty of federal employees. In announcing his order, Truman indicated that he expected all federal workers to demonstrate “complete and unswerving loyalty” the United States. Anything less, he declared,...

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On This Day, Mar. 21, 1980, Carter Announces Olympic Boycott

On this day in 1980, President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. will boycott the Olympic Games scheduled to take place in Moscow that summer. The announcement came after the Soviet Union failed to comply with Carter’s February 20, 1980, deadline to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. The Soviet military invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to reinforce the country’s communist regime against Islamic rebel forces. In a statement made after the invasion, Carter rebuked the Soviet Union, specifically Premier Leonid Brezhnev, and decried the invasion as a deliberate effort by a powerful atheistic government to subjugate an independent Islamic people that he called a stepping stone to control over oil supplies.” Brezhnev dismissed Carter’s statements as bellicose and wicked. The invasion threatened to revive the Cold War, which, during the late 1970s, had appeared to undergo a temporary thaw.  Carter said his opinion of the Russians has changed...

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On This Day, Mar. 20, 1965, LBJ Sends Federal Troops to Alabama

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson notifies Alabama‘s Governor George Wallace that he will use federal authority to call up the Alabama National Guard in order to supervise a planned civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Intimidation and discrimination had earlier prevented Selma’s black population–over half the city–from registering and voting. On Sunday, March 7, 1965, a group of 600 demonstrators marched on the capital city of Montgomery to protest this disenfranchisement and the earlier killing of a black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, by a state trooper. In brutal scenes that were later broadcast on television, state and local police attacked the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. TV viewers far and wide were outraged by the images, and a protest march was organized just two days after “Bloody Sunday” by Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King...

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On This Day, Mar 19, 2003 – War in Iraq Begins

On this day in 2003, the United States, along with coalition forces primarily from the United Kingdom, initiates war on Iraq. Just after explosions began to rock Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, U.S. President George W. Bush announced in a televised address, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” President Bush and his advisors built much of their case for war on the idea that Iraq, under dictator Saddam Hussein, possessed or was in the process of building weapons of mass destruction. Hostilities began about 90 minutes after the U.S.-imposed deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face war passed. The first targets, which Bush said were “of military importance,” were hit with Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. fighter-bombers and warships stationed in the Persian Gulf. In...

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On This Day, Mar 18, 1999 – Three Women are Murdered at Yosemite

On this day in 1999, the bodies of Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso are found in a charred rental car in a remote wooded area of Long Barn, Califonia. The women, along with Sund’s daughter Juli, had been missing since February when they were last seen alive at the Cedar Lodge near Yosemite National Park. Juli Sund’s body was found thirty miles away a week after the car was found. The mysterious disappearance of the three women had drawn national attention and landed them on the cover of People magazine. Compounding the mystery, Carole Sund’s wallet had been found on a street in downtown Modesto, California, three days after they had disappeared. Police and the FBI initially focused their investigation on Eugene Dykes, Michael Larwick, and a group of methamphetamine users in Northern California. However, all these leads went up in smoke in July when Joie Ruth Armstrong, a...

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On This Day, Mar 17, 1776 – British Evacuate Boston

On this day in 1776, British forces are forced to evacuate Boston following General George Washington’s successful placement of fortifications and cannons on Dorchester Heights, which overlooks the city from the south. During the evening of March 4, American Brigadier General John Thomas, under orders from Washington, secretly led a force of 800 soldiers and 1,200 workers to Dorchester Heights and began fortifying the area. To cover the sound of the construction, American cannons, besieging Boston from another location, began a noisy bombardment of the outskirts of the city. By the morning, more than a dozen cannons from Fort Ticonderoga had been brought within the Dorchester Heights fortifications. British General Sir William Howe hoped to use the British ships in Boston Harbor to destroy the American position, but a storm set in, giving the Americans ample time to complete the fortifications and set up their artillery. Realizing their position...

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On This Day, Mar 16,1988 – Reagan Orders Troops into Honduras

As part of his continuing effort to put pressure on the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, President Ronald Reagan orders over 3,000 U.S. troops to Honduras, claiming that Nicaraguan soldiers had crossed its borders. As with so many of the other actions taken against Nicaragua during the Reagan years, the result was only more confusion and criticism. Since taking office in 1981, the Reagan administration had used an assortment of means to try to remove the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. President Reagan charged that the Sandinistas were pawns of the Soviet Union and were establishing a communist beachhead in the Western Hemisphere, though there was little evidence to support such an accusation. Nonetheless, Reagan’s administration used economic and diplomatic pressure attempting to destabilize the Sandinista regime. Reagan poured millions of dollars of U.S. military and economic aid into the so-called “Contras,” anti-Sandinista rebels operating out of Honduras and...

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This Day in History, March 15, 44 BC – Julius Caesar is Assassinated

44 BC – Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was assassinated by high-ranking Roman Senators. The day is known as the “Ides of March.” Caesar was scheduled to leave Rome to fight in a war on March 18 and had appointed loyal members of his army to rule the Empire in his absence. The Republican senators, already chafing at having to abide by Caesar’s decrees, were particularly angry about the prospect of taking orders from Caesar’s underlings. Cassius Longinus started the plot against the dictator, quickly getting his brother-in-law Marcus Brutus to join. Caesar should have been well aware that many of the senators hated him, but he dismissed his security force not long before his assassination. Reportedly, Caesar was handed a warning note as he entered the senate meeting that day but did not read it. After he entered the hall, Caesar was surrounded by senators holding daggers. Servilius Casca...

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On This Day, March 14, 1914 – Henry Ford Announces the Assembly Line

1914 – Henry Ford announced the new continuous motion method to assemble cars. The moving assembly line appeared to the onlooker to be an endless contraption of chains and links that allowed Model T parts to swim through the sea of the assembly process. In total, the manufacturing of the car could be broken down into 84 steps. The key to the process, however, was having interchangeable parts. Unlike other cars of the time, the Model T featured interchangeable parts, which meant that every Model T produced on that line used the exact same valves, gas tanks, tires, etc. so that they could be assembled in a speedy and organized fashion. Parts were created in mass quantities and then brought directly to the workers who were trained to work at that specific assembly station. The chassis of the car was pulled down the 150-foot line by a chain conveyor...

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On This Day, March 13, 1519 – Cortez Arrives in Mexico

1519 – Hernando Cortez landed in Mexico. When the Spanish arrived, normally they would have been captured and sacrificed immediately. That’s how the Aztecs did things. But, in the 1500s, when the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, entered Aztec territory with a small band of his men, the Aztec misunderstood why they were there. The Aztecs through they were sent by their god, Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl, a very important god to the Aztecs, had vowed he would appear when the end of the world was near, to save the Aztec people. The Aztecs always believed the end of the world was near. That’s why they sacrificed so many people. They were trying to keep their gods happy so the god would postpone the end of the world. The longer the Spanish stayed in the capital city, the more suspicious the Aztec leaders became. The Spanish did not act like gods. They did...

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On this Day, March 12, 1912 – The Girl Guides of America were Established

1912 – The Girl Scout organization was founded. The original name was Girl Guides. Even before the foundation of an Association, groups of Guides existed in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and South Africa. By 1912 there were also groups in Ireland, Portugal, Norway and the USA. Juliette (Daisy) Gordon Low founded Girl Scouting in the USA in 1912 and her vision of worldwide Girl Guiding/Girl Scouting made a powerful contribution to its development. She assembled 18 girls from Savannah, Georgia, on 12 March 1912, for a local Girl Scout meeting. She believed that all girls should be given the opportunity to develop physically, mentally, and spiritually. 1496 – Jews were expelled from Syria.  1609 – The Bermuda Islands became an English colony.  1664 – New Jersey became a British colony. King Charles II granted land in the New World to his brother James (The Duke of York). ...

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On This Day in History, March 11, 1901– The Launch of US Steel

1901 – U.S. Steel was formed when industrialist J.P. Morgan purchased Carnegie Steep Corp. The event made Andrew Carnegie the world’s richest man.  When founded in 1901, United States Steel Corporation was the largest business enterprise ever launched, with an authorized capitalization of $1.4 billion. Today, over a century after its founding, U. S. Steel remains the largest integrated steel producer headquartered in the United States.

U. S. Steel had its origins in the dealings of some of America’s most legendary businessmen, including Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Charles Schwab. However, its principal architect was Elbert H. Gary, who also became U. S. Steel’s first chairman. At the turn of the century, a group headed by Gary and Morgan bought Carnegie’s steel company and combined it with their holdings in the Federal Steel Company. These two companies became the nucleus of U. S. Steel, which also included American Steel & Wire Co., National Tube Company, American Tin Plate...

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On This Day, March 10, 1776 – Thomas Paine Offers the Colonies a Bit of ‘Common Sense’

1776 – “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine was published. Common Sense was a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine in 1775–76 that inspired people in the Thirteen Colonies to declare and fight for independence from Great Britain in the summer of 1776. The pamphlet explained the advantages of and the need for immediate independence in clear, simple language. It was published anonymously on January 10, 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution and became an immediate sensation. It was sold and distributed widely and read aloud at taverns and meeting places. Washington had it read to all his troops, which at the time had surrounded the British army in Boston. In proportion to the population of the colonies at that time (2.5 million), it had the largest sale and circulation of any book published in American history. As of 2006, it remains the all-time best selling American title. Common Sense...

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On This Day, March 9, 1933 – Congress Begins Work on The New Deal

1933 – The U.S. Congress began its 100 days of enacting New Deal legislation. The New Deal was orchestrated by a core group of FDR advisors brought in from academia and industry known as the “Brains Trust” who, in their first “hundred days” in office, helped FDR enact fifteen major laws. One of the most significant of these was the Banking Act of 1933, which finally brought an end to the panic that gripped the nation’s banking system. The success of the Banking Act, depended in large measure on the willingness of the American people to once again place their faith—and money—in their local banks. To ensure this, FDR turned to the radio, and in the first of his many “fireside chats,” convinced the American people the crisis was over and that their deposits—backed by the newly established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) — were safe. Other significant...

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