This Week in History: Dec. 18-24, 2023

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This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann

“History is a vast early warning system.” Norman Cousins

Dec. 18-24, 2023




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 It was the only amendment to the Constitution that repealed another amendment.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 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 81, 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).


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. There are currently 32 Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museums around the world.

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 was 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, an American Indian 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.

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 has been invited back to host the Miss Universe Pageant every year since, except for the 2020 pageant, which was cancelled. 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.

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. In early December, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud, age 71, was arrested and charged with the bombing. He is awaiting trial.

2020 – COVID-19 vaccines become available in the U.S. and then-Vice President Biden receives the vaccine on live TV.


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 – The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, with test pilot Bob Gilliland, makes its first flight at Plant #42 in Palmdale, California. Watch a documentary with flight footage.



1984 – Bernhard Goetz shoots 4 black muggers on a New York City subway train. The “Subway Vigilante” was acquitted of attempted murder but was convicted of gun violations and served less than a year. Goetz is now 76 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.


December 23

1779 – Revolutionary War hero Benedict Arnold is court-martialed for improper conduct after he agrees to turn over West Point to the British through Major John Andre in exchange for money. Arnold was cleared of all charges while Andre was captured and subsequently hanged in October 1790.

1788 – Maryland votes to cede a 10-sqaure-mile area to form the District of Columbia. Washington, DC became the permanent capital of the U.S. in 1790.

1823 – “A Visit from St Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore is published in the Troy (New York) Sentinel. It is more commonly known as “T’was The Night Before Christmas.”

1867 – Sarah Breedlove, known as Madame C. J. Walker, is born. She became the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S. with her hair care products for black women. She died in 1919 at age 51.

1913 – President Woodrow Wilson signs the Federal Reserve Act into law. In spite its name, the Federal Reserve is a privately owned banking system and is not part of the federal government. It has never been audited.

1938 – Margaret Hamilton is severely burned after her costume catches fire during the filming of “The Wizard of Oz.” Although she was featured in many other movies, Hamilton was quintessentially known as the Wicked Witch. Hamilton died in 1985 at age 82.

1961 – Fidel Castro announces Cuba will release 1,113 prisoners after the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion in exchange for $62 million worth of food and medical supplies. Cuba started returning U.S. prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion on this date in 1962.

1968 – Eighty-two crew members of U.S. intelligence ship USS Pueblo are released by North Korea, 335 days after it was captured. The ship remains in North Korea.

1972 – In what became known as the “Immaculate Reception” the Pittsburg Steelers turn around a 7-6 deficit with a last second touchdown reception by Franco Harris from Terry Bradshaw against the Oakland Raiders for a 13-7 win. Watch it with player interviews.



1986 – Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager (no relation to Chuck Yeager) complete the first around-the-world flight without refueling aboard Voyager when they land at Edwards Air Force Base in California 9 days, 3 minutes, and 44 seconds after takeoff.

1997 – Terry Nichols is found guilty of manslaughter in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Nichols is now 68 years old.

2016 – The U.N. Security Council adopts Resolution 2334, demanding a halt to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, by a vote of 14-0. The U.S. abstained.


December 24

1814 – The Treaty of Ghent is signed, ending the War of 1812. The British stalled negotiations awaiting the British capture of New Orleans and the valuable port at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Future president Andrew Jackson, who was very ill at the time, successfully defended New Orleans with a much smaller military force and inferior weapons in January of 1815.

1851 – Fire devastates the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, DC, destroying 35,000 volumes and documents, about two-thirds of its book collection. The fire destroyed most of the books purchased from Thomas Jefferson in 1815 to replace those lost during the War of 1812.

1948 – The first house in the U.S. completely sun-heated is occupied in Dover, Massachusetts. It cost about $20,000 to build it. Architect Eleanor Raymond designed the structure, scientist Maria Telkes designed the solar heating system, and Boston heiress and sculptress Amelia Peabody financed it.

1968 – Apollo 8 astronauts give a Christmas Eve reading from the Bible book of Genesis while orbiting the Moon. Watch images from Apollo 8 as the astronauts read from Genesis.



2000 – Thirty-six minutes after the end of the football game, the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins are called back to the field to play the final 3 seconds of the game, which the Dolphins had won 27-24. The final score did not change.



Image from: history.net


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