This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann
“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past,
for human events ever resemble those of preceding times.”
Week of Dec. 11-17, 2017
1620 – One hundred two Mayflower pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock. Forty-five died the first winter and were buried on Cole’s Hill.
1930 – The Bank of the United States in New York City closes after an estimated 2,500-3,000 depositors withdraw $2 million from the bank the day before. This run on the bank is seen as the beginning of the Great Depression.
1941 – Germany and Italy declare war on U.S.
1951 – Joe DiMaggio announces his retirement from baseball saying, “When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game, and so, I’ve played my last game.” He is best known for his 56-game hitting streak (May 15-July 16, 1941), a record that still stands. DiMaggio is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.
1964 – Che Guevara speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. An unknown terrorist fires a mortar shell at the building during the speech.
1972 – Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in Apollo 17 become the 11th and 12th (and last) men to walk on the Moon. Watch Gene Cernan, who died in 2017 at age 82, hop on the moon:
1981 – Muhammad Ali, at age 39, fights his 61st (and last) bout. He loses to Trevor Berbick. Ali died in June of 2016 at age 74.
1985 – The Dow Jones closes above 1,500 for the first time (1,511.70).
1991 – Salman Rushdie, under an Islamic death sentence for blasphemy after publishing “The Satanic Verses,” makes his first public appearance since 1989 at a New York dinner marking the 200th anniversary of the First Amendment (which guarantees freedom of speech in the U.S.). Watch a New York Times interview with Rushdie:
2008 – Bernard Madoff is arrested and charged with securities fraud in a $50 billion Ponzi scheme. He was sentenced in 2009 to 150 years in prison and ordered to pay &170 billion in restitution. Madoff is now 79 years old.
2015 – “Playboy” magazine publishes its last nude issue, which features Pamela Anderson on the cover. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died in 2017 at age 91.
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.
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 closed at 54 points.
1925 – The “Motel Inn,” the first motel in the world, opens in San Luis Obispo, California. The motel finally closed in the 1970s and most of the structures were bulldozed in 2005. A San Louis Obispo development company plans to build and open a 55-room hotel on the site in 2018.
1953 – Chuck Yeager sets a new airspeed record at Mach 2.44 (1,620 mph) in his Bell X-1A rocket plane (almost 2 ½ times the speed of sound). Yeager is 94 years old.
1963 – Frank Sinatra, Jr., age 19, 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:
1980 – U.S. copyright law is amended to include computer software programs.
1989 – Leona Helmsley, The Queen of Mean, is fined $7 million and sentenced to four years in prison for tax evasion. Helmsley died in 2007 at age 87.
1997 – A federal judge sentences 23-year-old Autumn Jackson, who claims to be Bill Cosby’s daughter, to 26 months in jail for trying to extort $40 million from Cosby. He admitted to having an affair with her mother and paying for Autumn’s education.
2000 – The U.S. Supreme Court releases its decision in the Bush v. Gore “hanging chad” presidential election case in favor of George W. Bush.
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.
1903 – The Wright brothers attempt their first flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbur won the coin toss to pilot the craft. He pulled up too hard after the plane left the rail, stalled, and came down in three seconds, causing minor damage.
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.
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.
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. He was found hiding in a hole.
1793 – The first state road is authorized from Frankfort, Kentucky, to Cincinnati, Ohio.
1944 – Congress establishes the rank of General of the Army (five-star General). George C. Marshall was the first five-star general and Omar Bradley was the last. The five-star rank was retired in 1981 with the death of Omar Bradley.
1947 – The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is founded in Daytona Beach, Florida.
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 was 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:
2012 – Twenty-eight people, including twenty children, are shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
1791 – The Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments to the Constitution) is ratified when Virginia gives its approval.
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.
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.
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. In 2017 she published another book, “What Happened,” about her stunning loss in the 2016 presidential election.
2015 – The mayor of Flint, Michigan, declares state of emergency over lead contaminated water supplies amid calls for a criminal investigation. Fifteen current and former state officials, including the head Michigan’s health department, were charged in 2017 with various crimes, including obstruction of justice and involuntary manslaughter.
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:
1953 – The first White House Press Conference is held when President Eisenhower talks to 161 reporters.
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 and declare bankruptcy. The city owed $14 million to local banks. Detroit, Michigan, filed for bankruptcy in 2013, becoming the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, with over $18 billion in debt.
1988 – Political cult leader Lyndon LaRouche is convicted of tax and mail fraud. He ran for president unsuccessfully seven times. LaRouche is now 95 years old.
1991 The United Nations reverses its 1975 ruling that Zionism is racism by a 111-25 vote (13 countries abstain). The U.S. voted “no” on the 1975 resolution and “yes” on the repeal.
2015 – The Federal Reserve raises interest rates for the first time since 2006 by 0.25%.
1798 – The first impeachment trial against a sitting U.S. senator (William Blount of Tennessee) begins. The trial was presided over by Vice President Thomas Jefferson. The conspiracy charges were 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.
1903 – Orville Wright makes 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:
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 were released from detention camps. Between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans were confined during WWII, most of whom are American citizens. In 1988 President Reagan signed a bill to pay $1.6 in reparations to 82,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry.
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.
1989 – The Simpsons animated TV show makes its debut. It is now the longest-running American TV sitcom. The Simpsons started as a short on The Tracy Ulman Show. Watch a short video on the creation of the show featuring the cartoonist, Matt Groening:
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 counter-terrorism center and a new intelligence director.