This Week in History: Dec. 16-22, 2019


This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann

“No problem of human making is too great to be overcome by
human ingenuity, human energy, and the untiring hope of the human spirit.”
President George H. W. Bush

Week of Dec. 16-22, 2019


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 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 is now 96 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%.

December 17

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.

1965 – The New York Times publishes the largest single newspaper ever in the U.S. The Sunday paper had 946 pages. It cost 50¢.

1969 – The Air Force closes Project Blue Book, started in 1952, 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 was aimed at tightening borders and aviation security. It also created a federal counter-terrorism center and a new intelligence director.

December 18

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 12 giant pandas on display in U.S. zoos.

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 78, 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.

December 19

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

1776 – Thomas Paine publishes his “American Crisis” essay, in which he writes, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He published “Common Sense” in January of 1776.

1918 – Robert Ripley begins his “Believe It or Not” column in the New York Globe. Ripley opened his first “Odditorium” at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933.

1958 – The first voice broadcast from space is a recorded Christmas message by President Eisenhower. His recorded Christmas message was, “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:

1998 – President Bill Clinton is impeached on two charges of perjury and obstruction of justice by the House of Representatives, but he is not removed from office by the Senate. The charges against Clinton were based on a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones.

2007 – The Lakotah people, a Native American tribe, proclaim independence and withdraw all their treaties with the United States. They then proceeded to establish the Republic of Lakotah (in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana) with an ongoing process of international recognition as a separate country. Gary Garrison, then-spokesman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said group’s withdrawal “doesn’t mean anything.”

December 20

1606 – The ships “Susan Constant,” “Godspeed,” and “Discovery” set sail from London on their way to Jamestown, Virginia, to start the first permanent English settlement in America. The three ships, carrying 105 men and boys and 39 male crew members, arrived in April 1607. There were no women on the ships.

1803 – The Louisiana Purchase formally transfers land from France to the U.S. for $15 million, or less than 3 cents an acre, during Thomas Jefferson’s administration. It doubled the size of the United States.

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

1920 – Bob Hope becomes an American citizen. He was born in England and immigrated to the U.S with his family in 1907 at age 4. Among his many awards was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded in 1969. Bob Hope died in 2003 at age 100.

1954 – Buick Motor Company signs Jackie Gleason to one of the largest contracts at the time ever entered into with an entertainer. Gleason agreed to produce 78 half-hour shows over a two-year period for more than $6 million.

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

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

2015 – Host Steve Harvey announces the wrong winner of the Miss Universe Pageant. Harvey was invited back to host the 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Miss Universe Pageants. Watch the fiasco as it unfolded:

December 21

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

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

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

1954 – Dr. Sam Sheppard is convicted of the murder of his wife Marilyn and sentenced to life in prison. Sheppard was released from prison following a landmark Supreme Court ruling after serving 10 years. He was found not guilty in his second trial in 1966. Sheppard died in 1970 at age 46.

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 was 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. In 2001, Libyan-born Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty of 270 counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison in Scotland. He was the only person every convicted of the bombing. In 2009, he was released from prison on compassionate grounds due to his terminal prostate cancer. al-Megrahi died in 2012 at age 60.

December 22

1882 – Thomas Edison creates the first string of Christmas tree lights.

1941 – Winston Churchill arrives in Washington, DC for a wartime conference with President FDR. In 1963, Churchill was made an honorary U.S. citizen. Barack Obama sent the bust of Churchill back to the British embassy when he took over the White House. Churchill’s bust was returned to Washington, thanks to the efforts of former Speaker of the House John Boehner. The bust was dedicated on October 30, 2013.

1964 – Comedian Lenny Bruce is convicted of obscenity and sentenced to “four months in the workhouse.” He had already been charged with narcotics possession and obscenity several times. While awaiting an appeal Bruce dies of a heroin overdose on August 3, 1966, at the age of 40.

1964 – The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, with test pilot Bob Gilliland, makes its first flight at Plant #42 in Palmdale, California. Watch the Lockheed footage (no sound):

1984 – Bernhard Goetz shoots 4 black muggers on a New York City subway train. The “Subway Vigilante” was acquitted of attempted murder but is convicted of gun violations and served less than a year. Goetz is now 72 years old.

2001 – Richard Reid attempts, but fails, to destroy a passenger airliner by igniting explosives hidden in his shoes aboard American Airlines Flight 63.

2010 – President Barack Obama signs into law the repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, the 17-year-old Clinton administration policy banning homosexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military.


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