This Week in History: April 20-26, 2020

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This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history
is the most important of all the lessons of history.” Aldous Huxley

Week of April 20-26, 2020


April 20

1853 – Harriet Tubman starts the Underground Railroad. She made 19 trips to the South over 10 years, escorting over 300 slaves to the North.

1871 – The 3rd Enforcement Act allows the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to combat the Ku Klux Klan. President Grant received the legislation within a month of his request and used it to dismantle the KKK. The KKK was started by six Confederate Civil War veterans in December 1865, with Nathan Bedford Forrest serving as its first national leader.

1961 – American Harold Graham makes the first untethered flight of the rocket belt. The 108-foot flight lasted 13 seconds. Watch a CBS report and the flight (no sound except for annoying music).



1962 – NASA civilian pilot Neil Armstrong makes his first X-15 flight. In 1969, Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong died in 2012 at age 82.

1988 – The U.S. Air Force’s Stealth B-2 bomber is officially unveiled. Watch the roll out.



1999 – Students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 13 people and wound 24 others at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, before committing suicide.

2008 – Danica Patrick wins the Indy Japan 300, becoming the first female driver in history to win an Indy car race. In 2005, Patrick became the first woman to lead at the Indy 500 in Indianapolis. Patrick is 38 years old.

2010 – The Supreme Court rules that a law which makes it illegal to sell videos of animals being tortured violates the right to free speech. Chief Justice John Roberts said that the law was too broad and invalid to be used under the First Amendment.


April 21

1789 – John Adams is sworn in as the first vice president. George Washington was sworn in as president 9 days later.

1836 – During the Battle of San Jacinto, the Texas militia under Sam Houston captures Mexican General Santa Anna. In exchange for his freedom Santa Anna recognized Texas’ independence from Mexico.

1862 – The U.S. Congress established the U.S. Mint in Denver, Colorado.

1904 – Ty Cobb makes his professional baseball debut for Augusta in the South Atlantic League. Cobb spent most of his baseball career with the Detroit Tigers. He still holds the record for career batting average at .367 and was in the first group of Baseball Hall of Fame’s inductees. Cobb died in 1961 at age 74.

1930 – A fire at the Ohio State Penitentiary kills 322 prisoners, many of whom died in their locked cells.

1956 – Elvis Presley has his first number one hit when “Heartbreak Hotel” tops the Billboard charts.

1967 – Svetlana Alliluyeva (Svetlana Stalina) defects in New York City. She was the daughter of Joseph Stalin. Alliluyeva died in 2011 at age 85. Watch her 1967 press conference.



1986 – Geraldo Rivera opens Al Capone’s vault during a live two-hour special on TV and finds nothing inside. Watch Geraldo’s own commentary on the non-event.



1997 – The ashes of the late Gene Roddenberry, the “Star Trek” creator, are launched aboard the Celestis Earthview 01 for a space burial. A sample of his ashes was carried on the Space Shuttle Columbia mission in 1992, but his remains were returned to Earth with the shuttle.

2000 – The 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act goes into effect to protect children’s privacy and increase safety online, including restrictions on the marketing to those under age 13.


April 22

1864 – The United States mints a 2-cent coin. It has the first appearance of “In God We Trust.” On this date in 1955, Congress ordered all U.S. coins to bear the motto “In God We Trust.”

1889 – The Oklahoma land rush officially starts. The name “Sooners” comes from a clause in the Indian Appropriations Act that denied the right to claim land to anyone who arrived sooner than the official opening time.

1931 – James G. Ray lands an autogyro on the lawn of the White House. President Hoover presented pilot Ray and autogyro builder Harold Pitcairn with the National Aeronatic Association’s Collier Trophy, awarded “for the greatest achievement in aviation in America, the value of which has been demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.” Watch a silent video of the landing.



1970 – The first “Earth Day” is observed by millions of Americans. Twenty million Americans participated in various events coordinated by Denis Hayes. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), the founder of Earth Day, died in 2005 at age 89.

1972 – Apollo 16 astronauts John Young and Charles Duke ride on the moon in the Lunar Roving Vehicle. Apollo 17 in December 1972 was the last manned mission to the moon. Watch the historic moon ride.



2000 – In a pre-dawn raid, federal agents seize six-year-old Elián González from his uncle’s home in Miami, Florida. González is among Cuban boat people rescued on Thanksgiving Day when 12 members of his family die. He was released to his uncle but his father in Cuba demanded custody. Attorney General Janet Reno approved the plan to forcibly remove González from the home. He returned to Cuba on June 28th. González is now 26 years old.

2005 – Zacarias Moussaoui (a French citizen of Moroccan descent) pleads guilty to conspiring with other al-Qaeda members in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was later sentenced to life in prison and is now serving a life sentence at the Federal ADX Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

2014 – The Supreme Court rules 6 to 2 in favor of a Michigan ban on affirmative action.


April 23

1635 – The oldest U.S. public institution still in operation, Boston Latin School, is founded.

1908 – President Theodore Roosevelt signs an act creating the U.S. Army Reserve.

1924 – The U.S. Senate passes the Soldiers Bonus Bill for World War I vets. President Coolidge vetoed the bill in May, but Congress overrode the presidential veto. President Harding vetoed a similar bill in 1922. Veterans marched on Washington in 1932 to forced Congress to pay the promised bonuses.

1954 – Hammerin’ Hank Aaron hits the first of his 755 homers. Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record with 715 during a home game for the Atlanta Braves on April 8, 1974. He hit his final home run as a Milwaukee Brewer on July 20, 1976. Aaron is now 86 years old.

1956 – The U.S. Supreme Court ends race segregation on buses.

1969 – Sirhan Sirhan is sentenced to death for killing Bobby Kennedy on June 6, 1968. Three years later Sirhan’s sentence is commuted to life in prison because California deems capital punishment of convicted assassins as cruel and unusual punishment. Sirhan is still in prison and is now 76 years old.

1984 – Researchers announce they discovered and isolated a virus they say is likely to be the primary cause of AIDS.

1985 – The Coca-Cola Company announces that it is changing its 99-year-old secret formula. New Coke was not successful, which resulted in the resumption of the selling the original version. Watch the mea culpa announcement of Coca-Cola returning to the original formula.



1988 – A federal ban on smoking during domestic airline flights of 2 hours or less takes effect.

1992 – Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington, DC, is released from prison following his conviction for drug possession. Barry was reelected mayor of DC in 1994.

2005 – The first video is uploaded to YouTube.com. Watch the first YouTube video with over 30 million views.



2009 – The iTunes Music Store reaches 1 billion applications downloaded.

2010 – Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer signs an immigration bill into law that is seen as one of the toughest in the U.S., despite criticism by President Obama.


April 24

1704 – The “Boston News-Letter” is established. It was the first successful newspaper in the U.S.

1800 – The Library of Congress is established when President John Adams signs a bill that also moves the capital from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. The bill included a $5,000 allocation for a reference library for Congressional use.

1898 – Spain declares war after rejecting the U.S. ultimatum to withdraw from Cuba. The U.S. won the 10-week-long war.

1907 – Hersheypark, founded by Milton S. Hershey for the exclusive use of his employees, is opened to the public.

1908 – Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Murdock become the first people to travel across the U.S. by car. They left Los Angeles and arrived in New York City 32 days, 5 hours, and 25 minutes later.

1917 – The U.S. Congress passes the Liberty Loan Act, authorizing the Treasury to issue a public subscription for $2 billion in bonds for the war.

1962 – MIT sends a TV signal by satellite for the first time. The signal traveled from California to Massachusetts.

1980 – The U.S. military operation Eagle Claw, ordered by President Jimmy Carter to rescue 52 hostages in Iran, fails. Eight servicemen died during a refueling stop in bad weather. All the hostages were released moments after President Reagan completes his inauguration speech on January 20, 1981.

1990 – The space shuttle Discovery blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida carrying the $1.5 billion Hubble Space Telescope. It was launched the following day. Watch a brief report on the Hubble and its 1993 repair.



1997 – The U.S. Senate ratifies the Chemical Weapons Convention. The global treaty banned the development, production, storage and use of chemical weapons.

2015 – Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner announces during a Diane Sawyer interview that he is now a woman. He changed his name to Caitlyn. Watch excerpts from the interview.




April 25

1846 – A military skirmish known as the Thornton Affair begins over the disputed border of Texas, triggering the Mexican-American War.

1901 – New York becomes the first state requiring automobile license plates. They charge a $1 fee.

1928 – Morris Frank becomes the first American to use a guide dog. Buddy, a German shepherd, is the first guide dog. Watch a touching video of Morris, in his own words, and Buddy.



1945 – Delegates from about 50 countries meet in San Francisco to organize the United Nations.

1954 – Bell Laboratories announces the first solar battery made from silicon. It had about 6% efficiency.

1960 – The submarine USS Triton becomes the first submerged vessel to circumnavigate the Earth. The trip took nearly 61 days.

1967 – Colorado Governor John Love signs the first law in the U.S. legalizing abortions. The law was limited to therapeutic abortions when agreed to unanimously by a panel of three physicians.

1984 – David Anthony Kennedy, son of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, is found dead in a hotel room of a drug overdose.

1998 – First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is questioned by Whitewater prosecutors on videotape about her work as a private lawyer for the failed savings and loan at the center of the investigation. Watch the entire 1998 interview on Good Morning America.



2007 – The Dow Jones Industrial Average closes above 13,000 for the first time.


April 26

1607 – The British establish an American colony at Cape Henry near Jamestown, Virginia. It was the first permanent English establishment in the Western Hemisphere.

1859 – New York politician Dan Sickles is acquitted of murdering his wife’s lover on grounds of temporary insanity. It was the first time the insanity defense was used successfully.

1865 – John Wilkes Booth is killed by the U.S. Federal Cavalry at the Garrett Farm in Virginia. Booth assassinated President Lincoln on April 15th at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC.

1941 – A tradition of playing organ music during a baseball game begins when the Chicago Cubs use an organ as a one-time gimmick. It was so popular that the Cubs management kept the instrument. Gary Pressy is in his 33rd year as organist at Wrigley Field. Watch an interview with Pressy.



1954 – A nationwide test of Salk anti-polio vaccine begins.

1962 – NASA’s Ranger 4 spacecraft makes a crash landing on the backside of the moon when its onboard computer fails to deploy the solar panels and navigation system.

1986 – Actor, body builder, and future California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger marries John F. Kennedy’s niece, newscaster Maria Shriver. They separated in 2011 and were later divorced.

1993 – NBC announces that Conan O’Brien will replace David Letterman on late night TV. O’Brien was replaced by Jay Leno. Jimmy Fallon is the current host. Steve Allen was the first.

2000 – Vermont Gov. Howard Dean signs the nation’s first bill allowing same-sex couples to form civil unions. Dean ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004.

2009 – American health officials declare a public health emergency after 20 cases of swine flu (H1N1) were confirmed.




Image from: variety.com

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