This Week in History: Dec. 2-8, 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. 2-8, 2019


December 2

1816 – The first savings bank in the U.S. opens as the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society (PFSF). By the late 1910s, PSFS had the most depositors of any savings bank in the U.S.

1823 – President James Monroe declares his “Monroe Doctrine.” Monroe stated during a message to Congress that, “The American continents … are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.”

1845 – U.S. President James K. Polk announces to Congress that the United States should aggressively expand into the West in what became known as “Manifest Destiny.”

1942 – Dr. Enrico Fermi and his staff produce the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction at the University of Chicago. Fermi described the Chicago Pile-1 apparatus as “a crude pile of black bricks and wooden timbers.”

1954 – The U.S. Senate censures Senator Joe McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) for “conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.” McCarthy claimed that communists had infiltrated the U.S. State Department. He became chair of the Senate’s subcommittee on investigations. He continued to serve in the Senate until his death in May of 1957 at age 48.

1957 – The first nuclear power plant in the world opens in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, and remained operational until 1982. There are currently 60 commercially operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. in 30 states.

1982 – The first permanent artificial heart is successfully implanted in retired dentist Barney Clark. He lived 112 days with the Jarvic-7 heart.

2014 – Stephen Hawking claims that Artificial Intelligence could be a “threat to mankind” and spell the end of the human race. Hawking, who from suffered from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) died in 2018 at age 76. Watch a report on the claim:

2015 – A terrorist attack on a social services center in San Bernardino, California, kills 14 people and wounds 22 others. The husband and wife terrorists were shot and killed after the attack.

December 3

1868 – The first blacks are selected to serve on a U.S. jury in preparation for the trial of Confederate President Jefferson Davis for treason. They never served on the jury because Davis, after 2 years of imprisonment at Fort Monroe, Virginia, was released in $100,000 bail.

1911 – Willis Carrier makes his presentation on “Rational Psychrometric Formulae” on air conditioning to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He founded Carrier Corporation in 1915, which specialized in making air conditioners.

1923 – The first Congressional open session is broadcast via radio from Washington, DC.

1950 – Paul Harvey begins his national radio broadcast. Harvey started his radio career with a local broadcast in Chicago in 1944. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. His final broadcast was on February 7, 2009. Harvey died three weeks later at age 90. Good day!

1989 – Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President George H. W. Bush declare that the Cold War is over. It started after the end of World War II amid geopolitical uncertainties. The term Cold War was coined by author George Orwell in an essay written in 1945.

2012 – The Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977, reaches the end of our solar system and enters interstellar space. Voyager’s mission is expected to continue until about 2025, when its generators will no longer be able to supply enough power to operate the onboard instruments.

2015 – Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announces that all combat roles in U.S. armed forces will be open to women. Watch Carter’s announcement from the Pentagon:

December 4

1872 – The American merchant ship Mary Celeste is discovered mysteriously abandoned in the Atlantic Ocean. There were no signs of foul play and her crew was never found.

1918 – President Wilson sails for the Versailles Peace Conference in France at the end of World War I, becoming the first chief executive to travel outside U.S. while in office. The Conference set the terms for peace.

1920 – In the first pro football playoff game, the Buffalo All-Americans beat the Canton Bulldogs 7-3 at the Polo Grounds. The undefeated Akron Pros go on to beat the Buffalo All-Americans.

1964 – Baseball approves a free-agent draft. Rick Monday was the first pick in the first free agent draft on June 8, 1965. Monday is most well-known for rescuing the American flag from fans trying to burn it during a 1976 game at Dodger Stadium. Watch the heroic incident with player interviews:

1978 – Dianne Feinstein becomes San Francisco’s first woman mayor when she is named to replace Mayor George Moscone, who had been murdered. Feinstein, now in her sixth term in Congress, is the oldest Senator at 86 years of age. She is also listed as the second-wealthiest Senator.

1991 – Pan American World Airways, founded in 1927, ceases operations. Pan Am was the largest U.S. international air carrier. Delta, founded in 1924, is the oldest airline company still operating in the U.S.

1998 – The Unity Module, the first U.S.-built module for the International Space Station, is launched on board the Space Shuttle Endeavor.

December 5

1792 – George Washington is re-elected President, with John Adams as his Vice-President.

1848 – President Polk triggers the Gold Rush of ’49 when he confirms the discovery of gold in Sutter’s Mill, California. About 300,000 people went to California and extracted more than 750,000 pounds of gold.

1933 – The 21st Amendment is ratified as the only amendment adopted to repeal an earlier amendment (18th Amendment – Prohibition).

1945 – The “Lost Squadron” disappears east of Florida in the Bermuda Triangle. Five bombers of Flight 19 reported problems with their instruments. The search aircraft also disappeared, for a total loss of 27 men.

1955 – The AFL (founded in 1886) and CIO (founded in 1935) unions merge. The AFL-CIO represents 56 national and international unions with about 12 million active and retired members. Membership peaked in 1979 with 20 million members.

1964 – Captain Roger Donlon is awarded the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam War for his heroism in battle earlier in the year. Watch Cpt. Donlon’s story in his own words:

1985 – The Dow Jones Industrial Average rises above 1,500 for the first time.

1993 – Space Shuttle Atlantis astronauts begin repair of Hubble telescope in space. Watch the actual space repairs with audio:

1998 – James P. Hoffa becomes the president of the Teamsters union, 23 years after his father, Jimmy Hoffa, was the head of the Teamsters. His father disappeared in 1975 and is presumed dead.

2008 – OJ Simpson is sentenced to 33 years in prison for kidnapping and armed robbery. He was paroled in 2017 after serving 9 years.

December 6

1790 – Congress convenes in Philadelphia, the new temporary U.S. capital, after leaving New York City. Washington, DC became the permanent capital of the U.S. in 1800.

1877 – Thomas Edison makes the first sound recording by reciting “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”

1884 – The construction of the Washington Monument is completed. The project took 34 years to build and was interrupted by financial problems and the Civil War. The marble used for upper two-thirds of the monuments came from a different quarry and is a different color.

1907 – A coal mine explosion in Monongah, West Virginia, kills 362 miners in the worst mine disaster in U.S. history. It was one of four deadly coal mine disasters in 1907.

1923 – President Calvin Coolidge makes the first presidential address on the radio. The broadcast to a joint session of Congress was the first of what is now known as the State of the Union Address.

1957 – The first U.S. attempt to launch a satellite fails when the Vanguard rocket blows up. Only 3 of the 11 Vanguard rockets were successfully placed in orbit from 1957 to 1959.

1964 – “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a stop-action animation movie, airs for the first time on TV (and every year since). The title song was written by country music legend Gene Autry. Listen to the title song with images from the movie:

1969 – About 300,000 people attend the Altamont Speedway Free Concert in California, four months after Woodstock. The rock concert, featuring the Rolling Stones, was marred by violence.

1992 – San Francisco 49er Jerry Rice catches an NFL record 101 touchdowns. Rice still holds the record with 208 touchdowns. Watch one of Rice’s amazing TD catches:

1994 – Orange County, California, files for bankruptcy protection with $1.2 billion in debt, becoming the largest municipality to file for bankruptcy. It was surpassed by Detroit in 2013, with an estimated $18-20 billion in debt.

1994 – The Maltese Falcon is auctioned for $398,590. In 2013, it sold at auction for over $4 million, becoming one of the most expensive movie props ever sold.

2006 – NASA announces that photographs taken by Mars Global Surveyor suggests the presence of liquid water on Mars.

December 7

1787 – Delaware becomes the first state to ratify the Constitution.

1891 – The 52nd Congress, the first Congress to appropriate $1 billion, holds its first session.

1925 – Swimmer Johnny Weissmuller sets a world record in the 150-yard freestyle with a time of 1 minute 25 seconds. He went on to play “Tarzan” in several movies. Weissmuller died in 1984 at age 79. Watch a 1974 interview with Weissmuller on how he became Tarzan:

1941 – The Japanese attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hawaii, killing 2,403 people, on a date that will live in infamy.

1946 – A fire at the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta kills 119 people and injures 62 others. It was America’s deadliest hotel fire disaster. The hotel founder, W. Frank Winecoff, was also killed in the fire. Watch a report about the fire, including eye witness interviews:

1963 – Instant replay is used for the first time in the Army-Navy game. The system was invented by CBS Sports Director Tony Verna and weighed 1,300 pounds.

1968 – Richard Dodd returns a library book his great-grandfather checked out in 1823. The fine was not levied, but it would have been $22,646. The book was “Medical Reports of the Effects of Water, Cold & Warm, Remedy in Fever & Febrile Diseases, Whether Applied to the Body or Used Internally” by James Currie.

1982 – Charlie Brooks Jr., a convicted murderer, becomes the first prisoner in the U.S. to be executed by lethal injection. He was executed at a prison in Huntsville, Texas.

1998 – Attorney General Janet Reno declines to seek an independent counsel investigation of President Bill Clinton over his 1996 campaign financing.

2005 – Rigoberto Alpizar, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 924 who claimed to have a bomb, is shot and killed by a team of U.S. federal air marshals at Miami International Airport.

December 8

1792 – South Carolina Delegate Henry Laurens is the first person to be cremated in the U.S.

1941 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers his “Day of Infamy” speech to the U.S. Congress the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Watch the speech:

1952 – TV has its first acknowledgement of pregnancy when it is announced on “I Love Lucy” that Lucy is “enceinte” (French for expecting). The episode when Lucy gave birth aired on January 19, 1953, to coincide with Lucille Ball’s real-life delivery of Desi Arnez, Jr. by Caesarean section. This episode was watched by more people than any other TV program up to that time. Watch the hilarious “enceinte” announcement:

1953 – President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers his “Atoms for Peace” speech to the U.N. General Assembly, spelling out the necessity of repurposing existing nuclear weapons technology to peaceful ends. It was seen as the inspiration for the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency of 1956.

1963 – Frank Sinatra’s son is kidnapped. Frank Sinatra, Jr. was released two days later when his father paid a ransom of $240,000. Three kidnappers were caught, convicted, and sentenced for the kidnapping. Frank Sinatra, Jr. died in March of 2016 at age 72.

1966 – The U.S. and the USSR sign a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons in outer space.

1987 – President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev sign a treaty eliminating medium range nuclear missiles to “trust, but verify.”

1993 – President Clinton signs into law the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). President Trump replaced NAFTA in September 2018 with USMCA, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

2010 – SpaceX becomes the first privately held company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft. In 2012, they became the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station.


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