This Week in History, December 15-21, 2014


This Week In History

by Dianne Hermann


“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people.

They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

– Thomas Jefferson        


Week of December 15-21, 2014


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.


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.

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 (with Gemini 7).

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1983 – The last 80 U.S. combat soldiers in Grenada are withdrawn.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.


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.


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 91 years old.

1972 – The Miami Dolphins become the first and only undefeated National Football League team. Their season record is 17-0-0, including a Super Bowl VII win against the Washington Redskins.

1988 – Political cult leader Lyndon LaRouche is convicted of tax and mail fraud. He runs for president unsuccessfully seven times. LaRouche is now 92 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.


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.


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 $20,000 per person in reparations to 82,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry.

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 voters rejected a $217 million bond plan to renovate the Astrodome, so it may be demolished.


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

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 94 years old.

1989 – The Simpsons animated TV show makes its debut. It is now the longest-running American TV sitcom.


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.

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.


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.

1966 – Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” airs for the first time on CBS-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 at:

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.


December 19

1732 – Benjamin Franklin, under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders, begins publication of Poor Richard’s Almanack. It is published until 1758.

1776 – Thomas Paine published his first “American Crisis” essay, in which he writes, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

1823 – Georgia is the first U.S. state to pass a birth registration law.

1907 – In the worst mining disaster in Pennsylvania, 239 workers died in a coal mine explosion in Jacobs Creek.

1910 – Baltimore, Maryland, passes the first city ordinance requiring separate white and black residential areas.

1918 – Robert Ripley begins his “Believe It or Not” column in the New York Globe.


1928 – The first autogiro (predecessor of helicopter) has its flight in the U.S.

1950 – General Eisenhower is named NATO commander.

1958 – President Eisenhower makes the first radio broadcast from space. His recorded Christmas message is “This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you via a satellite circling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America’s wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere.” Listen to the message at:

1972 – Apollo 17 returns to Earth. It is the last spacecraft to land on the moon. Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan is the last person to walk on the moon.

1974 – Nelson A. Rockefeller is sworn in as the 41st vice president. Vice President Gerald Ford becomes president after President Nixon resigns following the Watergate scandal.

1986 – Michael Sergio, who parachutes into Shea Stadium during game 6 of the World Series, is sentenced to 100 hours of community service and fined $500. Watch his perfect landing at:

2007 – The Lakotah people, a Native American tribe, proclaim independence and withdraw all their treaties with the United States. They then proceed to establish the Republic of Lakotah, with an ongoing process of international recognition as a separate country.


December 20

1790 – The first successful U.S. cotton mill to spin yarn is in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

1803 – The Louisiana Purchase formally transfers land from France to the U.S. for $27 million.

1860 – South Carolina votes 169-0 for the Ordinance of Secession, becoming the first state to secede from the Union.

1892 – The pneumatic automobile tire is patented in Syracuse, New York.

1920 – Bob Hope becomes an American citizen. He is born in England and immigrates to the U.S with his family in 1907 at age 4. Bob Hope died in 2003 at age 100.

1921 – The American League votes to return to the best-of-7 baseball World Series, while the National League votes for the best-of-9 games. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis casts deciding vote for best-of-7 games.

1945 – The rationing of auto tires ends in the U.S.

1956 – Montgomery, Alabama, removes race-based seat assignments on its buses following a yearlong bus boycott.

1957 – Elvis Presley receives a draft notice from the U.S. Army. He serves from March 1958 to March 1960. He is stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, and in Germany.


1962 – The Osmond Brothers, before Donnie Osmond joined them, debut on the Andy Williams Show. Watch the brothers at:

1969 – Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” written by John Denver, reaches #1 on the charts.

1985 Howard Cosell retires from television sports after 20 years with ABC.

2012 – Intercontinental Exchange purchases the New York Stock Exchange, the largest in the world, for $8 billion.


December 21

1784 – John Jay becomes the first U.S. Secretary of State for foreign affairs. Jay is also the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1789-1795).


1891 – Eighteen students play the first basketball game at Springfield College in Massachusetts. (See Dec. 1, 1891)

1909 The first junior high school is established in Berkeley, California.

1913 – The first crossword puzzle (with 32 clues) is printed in the New York World newspaper. The crossword puzzle is created by Arthur Wynne.

1919 – J. Edgar Hoover deports anarchists/feminist Emma Goldman to Russia.

1933 – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers appear in their first movie together, “Flying Down to Rio.” Watch them cut a rug at:

1954 – Dr. Sam Sheppard is convicted of the murder of his wife Marilyn. Sheppard is released from prison following a landmark Supreme Court ruling after serving 10 years. Sheppard died in 1970 at age 46.

1959 – Tom Landry accepts the coaching job with football’s Dallas Cowboys. He coaches the Cowboys until 1988. Landry died in 2000 at age 75.

1969 – Diana Ross makes her last of 17 TV appearances as a Supreme on “The Ed Sullivan Show”.

1969 – Vince Lombardi coaches the Washington Redskins in his last football game. As head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi led the team to three NFL championships and victories in the first two Super Bowls (1967 and 1968). Lombardi died of colon cancer in 1970 at age 57.

1978 – Police in Des Plaines, Illinois, arrest John Wayne Gacy Jr. for murder. He is convicted of the assault and murder of 33 teenage boys and young men. Gacy is executed in 1994 at age 52.

1988 – New York bound Pan Am Flight 103 is destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew over Lockerbie, Scotland.

2012 – “Gangnam Style” becomes the first video to reach one billion views on YouTube. Views have now exceeded two billion. YouTube recently had to upgrade its counter to accommodate the high number of hits. Watch the music video phenomenon at: