This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Ronald Reagan
Dec 12-18, 2022
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 occurs 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. Originally called the Milestone Mo-Tel, the motel finally closed in the 1991 and most of the structures were bulldozed in 2005. A San Louis Obispo development company had plans in 2017 to build a 55-room hotel on the site, but construction has yet to begin.
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 died in 2020 at age 97.
1963 – Frank Sinatra, Jr., age 19, is released after being kidnapped on December 8th, after his famous father pays $240,000 in ransom. Barry Keenan, Johnny Irwin, and Joe Amsler were quickly caught, tried, and convicted of kidnapping. Although sentenced to long prison terms, Amsler and Irwin were released after 3 ½ years while Keenan, the mastermind, was released after 4 ½ years. Keenan died in November at age 82. Irwin, who was 42 at the time of the kidnapping, disappeared after his release from prison. Amsler died in 2006 at age 65. Watch a newsreel of the ordeal. Frank Sinatra, Jr. kidnapping
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.
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. There are 12 Federal Reserve banks. “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 comedian Richard Pryor hosts the TV show.
1978 – The Susan B. Anthony dollar, the first U.S. coin to honor a woman, is issued. Although a half billion coins were minted, the coin was poorly received, partly because of its similarity to the quarter.
2000 – The “Texas 7” escape from the maximum security John Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas. The 7 escaped prisoners went on a crime spree and killed police officer Aubrey Hawkins during a robbery. After being featured on “America’s Most Wanted” all 7 prisoners were located. One committed suicide and the other six were arrested. Three have already been executed and the other three 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. Hussein was executed in 2006.
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, making the two-thirds majority of states required for ratification.
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 was 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 were 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 was done in Denmark. Jorgensen died in 1989 at age 62.
1965 – Gemini 6 is launched and makes the first manned rendezvous in space (with Gemini 7).
1979 – The World Court in The Hague rules that Iran should release all U.S. hostages. The hostages were released after 444 days, just moments after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as president on January 20, 1981.
1993 – John Williams makes his final appearance as conductor of The Boston Pops after 13 years at the helm. Williams was preceded by famed conductor Arthur Fiedler (longest tenured) and succeeded by Keith Lockhart, the current (20th and second-longest tenured) 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 received a $14 million advance for her subsequent book “Hard Choices,” which tanked. In 2017 she published another book, “What Happened,” about her stunning loss in the 2016 presidential election.
2015 – The mayor of Flint, Michigan, declares a 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. Twelve deaths (from Legionnaire’s Disease) have been attributed to the tainted water. In June 2019, prosecutors dropped all charges pending against city officials.
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 was 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 was 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 to date in U.S. history, with over $18 billion in debt.
1988 – Political cult leader and 8-time presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche is convicted of tax and mail fraud. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was released in 1994. Thirteen of his associates were convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to terms ranging from one month to 77 years. LaRouche died in 2019 at age 96.
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%. The Fed raised interest rates four times in 2022.
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 determined 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 narrated Discovery video about 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.
1969 – The Air Force closes Project Blue Book, started in 1952, concluding there is no evidence that extraterrestrial spaceships are behind the thousands of UFO sightings. Two Pentagon officials appeared before the House Intelligence Committee in May 2022 to report on more than 140 cases of “unidentified aerial phenomena” or UAPs that were observed by military personnel since 2004. It was the first public hearing on UFOs in more than 50 years.
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 was aimed at tightening borders and aviation security. It also created a federal counter-terrorism center.
1839 – John Draper of New York City makes the first celestial photograph (the moon) in the US.
1915 – President Wilson, widowed the year before, marries Edith Bolling Galt. Wilson was the 3rd and last president to get married while in office. Widower John Tyler got married in 1844 and bachelor Grover Cleveland got married in 1886.
1917 – The 18th Amendment, authorizing prohibition of alcohol, is approved by congress and sent to the states for ratification. In 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified, repealing Prohibition. It was the only amendment to the Constitution that repealed another amendment.
1936 – Su-Lin, the first giant panda to come to U.S. from China, arrives in San Francisco. Su-Lin died two years later. The body of Su-Lin is on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. There are currently only three giant pandas on display in U.S. zoos (Atlanta, Memphis, and Washington, DC). The San Diego Zoo had to return their pandas to China after 23 years when their lease was not renewed.
1944 – The Supreme Court upholds the wartime relocation of Japanese-Americans, but also states that undeniably loyal Americans of Japanese ancestry cannot be detained. Between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, mostly on the Pacific coast, were forced into internment camps from 1942 to 1946.
1971 – People United to Save Humanity (Operation PUSH) is formed by Jesse Jackson in Chicago. Jackson also founded the National Rainbow Coalition in 1984 He merged the two organizations into Rainbow/PUSH in 1996. Jackson, now 80, serves at the president of the social justice movement.
1979 – Stanley Barrett becomes the first person to exceed the land sonic speed (739.666 MPH or Mach 1.01). Watch how Barrett broke the record and discover the controversy.
1996 – The Oakland, California, school board passes a resolution officially declaring “Ebonics” a language or dialect. It was described as African-American Vernacular English.
2015 – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens as the highest grossing film opening weekend of all time at $1 billion. It has since been surpassed by “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019).
Image from: NASA