This Week in History


This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann

“While I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future.”
– Ronald Reagan

Week of December 12-18, 2016

December 12

1791 – The Bank of the United States, also known as the First Bank, opens for business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

1800 – Washington, DC is established as the permanent capital of the U.S.

1899 – George F. Bryant of Boston patents the wooden golf tee.

1914 – The largest one-day percentage drop in the history of Dow Jones Industrial Average happens when the Dow drops 24.39 percent. The Dow closes at 54 points.

1917 – Father Edward Flanagan opens Boys Town in Nebraska. The farm village is for wayward boys. In 1979 it is opened to girls. “Boys Towns” was made into a 1938 movie starring Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan.

1925 – The “Motel Inn,” the first motel in the world, opens in San Luis Obispo, California.

1930 – Baseball changes its rule so that a ball that bounces into stands is no longer a homerun. It is now a ground rule double and the batter must hold a second base.

1946 – Tide laundry detergent is introduced.

1953 – Chuck Yeager reaches Mach 2.43 in his Bell X-1A rocket plane (almost 2 ½ times the speed of sound).

1963 – Frank Sinatra, Jr. is released after being kidnapped when his famous father pays $240,000 in ransom. Barry Keenan, Johnny Irwin, and Joe Amsler are quickly caught, tried, and convicted of kidnapping. Although sentenced to long prison terms, Amsler and Irwin are released after 3 ½ years and Keenan, the mastermind, is released after 4 ½ years. Watch a newsreel of the ordeal:

1968 – Arthur Ashe becomes the first black person to be ranked #1 in tennis.

1975 – Sara Jane Moore pleads guilty to a charge of trying to kill President Ford in San Francisco the previous September.

1980 – U.S. copyright law is amended to include computer programs.

1989 – Leona Helmsley, The Queen of Mean, is fined $7 million and sentenced to four years in prison for tax evasion.

1997 – A federal judge sentences Autumn Jackson, who claims to be Bill Cosby’s daughter, to 26 months in jail for trying to extort $40 million from Cosby.

2000 – The U.S. Supreme Court releases its decision in the Bush v. Gore “hanging chad” case in favor of George Bush.

2013 – The U.S. announces sanctions on the two dozen companies who assisted Iran with its nuclear program.

December 13

1636 – The Massachusetts Bay Colony organizes three militia regiments to defend the colony against the Pequot Indians. This organization is recognized today as the founding of the United States National Guard.

1759 – The first music store in America opens in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

1903 – The Wright brothers make their first flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina.

1913 – The Federal Reserve System is established by Congress to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system. “The Fed” has never been audited.

1922 – Brooklyn Dodgers owner and architect Charles Ebbets proposes putting numbers on baseball players’ sleeves or caps. The St. Louis Cardinals are the first team to put player numbers on uniforms in 1923.

1928 – George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” premieres in New York City.

1950 – James Dean begins his acting career with an appearance in a Pepsi commercial. Watch the commercial:

1961 – Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” album is country music’s first million-dollar seller. Watch Dean’s 1963 performance:

1975 – Saturday Night Live uses a time delay for the first time when Richard Pryor hosts the TV show.

1978 – The Susan B. Anthony dollar, the first U.S. coin to honor a woman, is issued.

1995 – Actor Christopher Reeves (a.k.a. Superman) is released from a physical rehab center after breaking his neck in a horse riding accident. He died in 2004 at the age of 52.

2000 – The “Texas 7” escape from the maximum security John Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas. The 7 escaped prisoners go on a crime spree and kill police officer Aubrey Hawkins during a robbery. After being featured on “America’s Most Wanted” all 7 prisoners are located. One commits suicide and the others are arrested. All have been executed or are awaiting execution for the murder of Officer Aubrey Hawkins.

2003 – Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is captured by U.S. troops near his hometown of Tikrit in Operation Red Dawn.

December 14

1793 – The first state road is authorized from Frankfort, Kentucky, to Cincinnati, Ohio.

1915 – Jack Johnson is the first black world heavyweight boxing champion. Johnson died in 1946 at age 68.

1944 – Congress establishes the rank of General of the Army (5-star General). George C. Marshall is the first 5-star general and Omar Bradley is the last.

1947 – The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is founded in Daytona Beach, Florida.

1969 – The Jackson Five make their first appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Watch their performance:

1984 – Sportscaster Howard Cosell retires from Monday Night Football after 14 years. He died in 1995 at age 77.

1986 – Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan & Jeana Yeager, takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, on the first non-stop, non-refueled flight around world. The trip is successfully completed on December 23rd. The Voyager is now on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Watch the tense and thrilling Voyager take off:

1995 – AIDS patient Jeff Getty receives the first-ever, non-human bone-marrow transplant (from a baboon). Getty died in 2006 at age 49.

2003 – President George W. Bush announces the capture of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi dictator is found hiding in a hole.

2012 – Twenty-eight people, including twenty children, are shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

December 15

1791 – The Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments to the Constitution) is ratified when Virginia gives its approval.

1791 – The first U.S. law school is established at the University of Pennsylvania.

1792 – The first life insurance policy in the U.S. is issued in Philadelphia.

1854 – The first street-cleaning machine in the U.S. is used in Philadelphia. Inventor C.S. Bishop patents the first street sweeping machine in 1849.

1914 – The American Radio Relay League (organization for ham radio operators) is founded by Hiram Percy Maxim.

1933 – Baseball owners agree to ban Sunday doubleheaders until after June 15.

1836 – A fire at the Patent Office in Washington, DC, destroys virtually all records.

1938 – Groundbreaking begins for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC. The memorial is dedicated in 1943. The statue of President Thomas Jefferson is 19 feet tall and weighs 5 tons.

1941 – The USS Swordfish becomes the first U.S. sub to sink a Japanese ship.

1944 – The U.S. Congress gives General Eisenhower his 5th star, making him General of the Army. Eisenhower resigns in 1952 to run for president.

1944 – Bandleader Major Glenn Miller’s plane is lost over the English Channel. The plane and crew are never found. Listen to a BBC radio broadcast with still photos and Miller’s music:

1952 – Christine Jorgensen (born George William Jorgensen) is the first person to undergo a sex-change operation. The surgery is done in Denmark. Jorgensen died in 1989 at age 62.

1965 – Gemini 6 is launched and makes the first rendezvous in space.

1973 – American Psychiatric Association declares that homosexuality is not mental illness.

1979 – The World Court in The Hague rules that Iran should release all U.S. hostages. The hostages are released after 444 days, just moments after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as president on January 20, 1981.

1983 – The last 80 U.S. combat soldiers in Grenada (Faulkland Islands) are withdrawn.

1993 – John Williams makes his final appearance as conductor of The Boston Pops after 13 years at the helm. Williams is preceded by famed conductor Arthur Fiedler and succeeded by Keith Lockhart, the current (and 20th) conductor. Watch Williams conduct his theme from “Star Wars”:

2000 – New York Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton accepts an $8 million deal with Simon & Schuster for a book about her eight years in the White House. The advance is the highest ever to be paid to a member of Congress. Hilary receives a $14 million advance for her subsequent book “Hard Choices,” which tanks.

2015 – The mayor of Flint, Michigan, declares state of emergency over lead contaminated water supplies amid calls for a criminal investigation.

December 16

1773 – The Sons of Liberty, dressed as Indians, toss crates of tea into the Boston Harbor that is sent by the East India Company in what becomes known as the Boston Tea Party.

1811 – An earthquake hits the New Madrid fault in Missouri, causing widespread damage. The earthquake is estimated by the U.S. Geological Society to have been three times stronger than the 1964 Alaska earthquake. Watch a report on the history and current status of the New Madrid fault:

1903 – The Majestic Theater in New York City becomes the first theater in the U.S. to employ women ushers.

1905 – Variety magazine, covering all phases of the entertainment business, is first published.

1907 – Eugene H. Farrar is the first person to sing on the radio. The broadcast originates from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York.

1913 – Charlie Chaplin begins his film career at Keystone for $150 a week.

1953 – The first White House Press Conference is held when President Eisenhower talks to 161 reporters.

1953 – Charles (Chuck) Yeager flies over 1,650 mph in a Bell X-1A. He is the first man to fly at nearly two and one-half times the speed of sound. Yeager is now 92 years old.

1972 – The Miami Dolphins finish the regular season as the first undefeated National Football League team. Their season record is 17-0-0, including a Super Bowl VII win against the Washington Redskins, making them the only undefeated team in NFL history. (The 2007 New England Patriots end the season undefeated, but lose the Super Bowl.) Watch highlights of the Dolphins’ perfect season:

1978 – Cleveland, Ohio, becomes the first post-Depression era city to default on its loans. The city owed $14 million to local banks.

1988 – Political cult leader Lyndon LaRouche is convicted of tax and mail fraud. He runs for president unsuccessfully seven times. LaRouche is now 94 years old.

1991 The United Nations reverses its 1975 ruling that Zionism is racism by a 111-25 vote (13 abstain). The U.S. voted “no” on the 1975 resolution and yes on the repeal.

2000 – President-elect George W. Bush selects Colin Powell to be the first black U.S. Secretary of State. Powell is sworn in January 20, 2001.

2015 – The Federal Reserve raises interest rates for the first time since 2006 by 0.25%.

December 17

1777 – France recognizes the independence of the English colonies in America.

1798 – The first impeachment trial against a sitting U.S. senator (William Blount of Tennessee) begins. The trial is presided over by Vice President Thomas Jefferson. The conspiracy charges are dismissed after the Senate determines that the Senate had no jurisdiction over its own members beyond its constitutional right to expel members by a two-thirds majority vote.

1895 – The Anti-Saloon League of America is formed in Washington, DC.

1900 – The new Ellis Island Immigration Station is completed at a cost of $1.5 million.

1903 – Orville Wright has the first sustained motorized aircraft flight in history at Kill Devil Hills at 10:35 AM. The flight lasts 12 seconds and covers 120 feet at a speed of 6.8 miles per hour. Watch a silent video of the flight:

1924 – The first diesel electric locomotive in the U.S. enters service in Bronx, New York.

1936 – Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and dummy Charlie McCarthy make their radio debut on Rudy Vallee’s Royal Gelatin Hour. Bergen died in 1978 at age 75. McCarthy is now at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

1944 – The U.S. Army announces the end of excluding Japanese-Americans from the West Coast. Japanese-Americans are released from detention camps. Between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans are confined during WWII, most of whom are American citizens. In 1988 President Reagan signs a bill to pay $1.6 in reparations to 82,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry.

1953 – The Federal Communications Commission approves RCA’s black & white-compatible specifications for color TV.

1957 – The U.S. successfully test-fires the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

1965 – The first concert at the Houston Texas Astrodome features The Supremes opening for Judy Garland. The first exhibition baseball game is played on April 9th. The Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-1. In November 2014 voters rejected a $217 million bond plan to renovate the Astrodome. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

1965 – The largest single newspaper ever published in the U.S. is the Sunday New York Times at 946 pages. It cost 50¢.

1969 – The Air Force closes Project Blue Book, concluding there is no evidence of extraterrestrial spaceships behind the thousands of UFO sightings. Watch a Today Show report on UFOs and links to Project Blue Book:

1975 – John Paul Stevens is appointed to the Supreme Court. Justice Stevens retired from the Supreme Court in 2010 at the age of 90. Stevens is now 96 years old.

1989 – The Simpsons animated TV show makes its debut. It is now the longest-running American TV sitcom. The Simpsons start as a short on The Tracy Ulman Show. Watch a short video on the creation of the show featuring the cartoonist, Matt Groening:

2002 – McDonald’s Corp. announces they will report its first quarterly loss in its 47-year history.

2004 – President George W. Bush signs into law the largest overhaul of U.S. intelligence gathering in 50 years. The bill is aimed at tightening borders and aviation security. It also creates a federal counterterrorism center and a new intelligence director.

December 18

1799 – George Washington’s body is interred at Mount Vernon in Virginia.

1839 – John Draper of New York City makes the first celestial photograph (the moon) in the US.

1878 – John Kehoe, a coal miner, is executed in Pennsylvania. He is the last of the Molly Maguires, a secret society of Irish-born and Irish-American coal miners.

1915 – President Wilson, widowed the year before, marries Edith Bolling Galt.

1917 – The 18th Amendment, authorizing prohibition of alcohol, is approved by congress and sent to the states for ratification. In 1933 the 21st Amendment is ratified, repealing Prohibition.

1936 – Su-Lin, the first giant panda to come to U.S. from China, arrives in San Francisco. Su-Lin dies two years later. The body of Su-Lin is on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

1944 – The Supreme Court upholds the wartime relocation of Japanese-Americans, but also states that undeniably loyal Americans of Japanese ancestry cannot be detained.

1956 – “To Tell the Truth” debuts on CBS-TV and lasts until 1968. The show goes into syndication in 1969. Four celebrity panelists try to correctly identify one person from among three contestants who has the unusual occupation or experience.

1957 – The Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania goes online. It is the first nuclear facility to generate electricity in the U.S. It is taken out of service in 1982.

1958 – The first voice from space is a recorded Christmas message by President Eisenhower. Listen to the president’s message:

1966 – Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” airs for the first time on TV.

1971 – People United to Save Humanity (PUSH) is formed by Jesse Jackson in Chicago.

1979 – Stanley Barrett becomes the first person to exceed the land sonic speed (739.666 MPH or Mach 1.01). Watch Barrett break the record:

1991 – General Motors announces the closing of 21 automobile plants.

1996 – The Oakland, California, school board passes a resolution officially declaring “Ebonics” a language or dialect. It is described as African-American Vernacular English.

2009 – General Motors announces that it will shut down its Saab brand.

2015 – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens as the highest grossing film opening weekend of all time at $1 billion.