This Week in History: Dec. 25-31, 2023


This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann

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

Dec. 25-31, 2023

December 25 – Merry Christmas!

1651 – A Massachusetts General Court orders a fine of five shillings for “observing any such day as Christmas.” The law banning Christmas celebrations was passed in 1659 and lasted 22 years.

1776 – General George Washington and his troops cross the Delaware River, surprising and defeating 1,400 Hessians soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

1868 – Despite bitter opposition, President Andrew Johnson grants an unconditional pardon to most persons involved in the Southern Rebellion (aka The Civil War), except former Confederate officers like Jefferson Davis. In 1872 and 1876, Davis was again excluded from citizenship rights granted to the remaining Confederate officers. It wasn’t until 1978 that President Jimmy Carter restored full citizenship rights to Davis. Davis died in 1889 at age 81.

1896 – John Philip Sousa writes “Stars & Stripes Forever.” In 1987, Congress made the song the official national march of the U.S. Sousa served in the Marine Corps as a musician and band leader from 1872 to 1792. He also served as a band leader in the Naval Reserve during WWI. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990. Sousa, known as the “March King,” died in 1932 at age 77. Watch “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band perform Sousa’s most famous march.

1939 – Montgomery Ward introduces Rudolph as the 9th reindeer in the story “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The story was written by marketing employee Robert May. May considered naming the reindeer “Rollo” or “Reginald.” May’s brother-in-law adapted the poem into a song, which was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949. The recording sold 2.5 million copies the first year and hit #1 on the Billboard chart during the week of Christmas that year.

1990 – The first successful trial test is run on the system that would become the World Wide Web (www). On August 6, 1991, web server creator Tim Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the project, although public availability of the first web servers occurred earlier that year. The original web page was thought to be lost, but Paul Jones of UNC-Chapel Hill saved a copy of the page on a floppy disk.

2023 – Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

December 26

1799 – George Washington is eulogized by Col. Henry Lee as, “First in war, first in peace, and first in hearts of his countrymen.” Henry Lee was the grandfather of Civil War general Robert E. Lee.

1877 – The Socialist Labor Party of North America holds its first national convention. It is the second oldest socialist party in the world still in existence.

1924 – Judy Garland, age 2½, makes her show business debut (as Baby Frances) with her two sisters. Her real name was Frances Gumm. Her most famous role was as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Garland died in 1969 at age 47. Her older sister, Dorothy Virginia, died in 1977 at age 59. The oldest Gumm sister, Mary Jane, committed suicide in 1964 at age 48. Watch the Gumm Sisters perform (Baby Frances is on the left).

1941 – Winston Churchill becomes the first British Prime Minister to address a joint meeting of Congress, warning that the Axis would “stop at nothing.”

1982 – Time Magazine’s “Man” of the Year is a computer.

1991 – Jack Ruby’s gun, the .38 Colt Cobra revolver used to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, sells for $220,000 at auction. In 2008, the gun was sold at a Las Vegas auction for the same price.

1996 – Six-year-old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey is found beaten and strangled to death in the basement of her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado. Her murder remains unsolved.

2018 – The Dow Jones has the largest one-day point increase in history. It rose 1,086.25 points. It was surpassed on March 24, 2020, when the Dow Jones gained 2,112.98 points.

December 27

1900 – Temperance leader Carrie Nation leads her first public smashing of a bar at the Carey Hotel in Wichita, Kansas. Between 1900 and 1910, Carrie Nation was arrested 30 times. Watch a Smithsonian show about her life.

1937 – Mae West performs her “Adam and Eve” skit that is so suggestive it gets her banned from NBC radio. Mae West died in 1980 at age 87.

1947 – The first “Howdy Doody Show” (Puppet Playhouse) is telecast on TV. It aired until 1960. Watch the 1947 intro.

1985 – Dian Fossey, an American naturalist, is found murdered at a research station in Rwanda. She was 53 years old. Her assistant, Wayne McGuire, was found guilty in absentia in a Rwandan court. He stayed in the U.S. and never served prison time for her murder.

2012 – NASA unveils its plan to capture a 500 ton asteroid in 2025. It is called the Asteroid Redirect Mission.

December 28

1832 – John C. Calhoun becomes the first Vice President to resign from office. He cited political differences with President Andrew Jackson. Calhoun then filled the vacant Senate seat in South Carolina.

1905 – The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the U.S. is founded and becomes the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 1910.

1945 – Congress officially recognizes the “Pledge of Allegiance.” The phrase “Under God” is added in 1954.

1948 – A DC-3 airliner disappears 50 miles south of Miami, Florida, in the Bermuda Triangle. The airplane, including 32 passengers and crew, were never found.

1981 – Elizabeth Jordan Carr, the first American “test-tube baby,” is born in Norfolk, Virginia. Carr was the 15th baby born in the world from the in-vitro fertilization procedure. Watch a short interview with Carr.

2000 – Retail giant Montgomery Ward announces it was going out of business after 128 years. The last stores closed the following year. Aaron Montgomery Ward started the company in 1872. Montgomery Ward launched as an online retailer in 2004. Ward died in 1913 at age 69.

2005 – A U.S. immigration judge orders John Demjanjuk deported to Ukraine for crimes against humanity committed during World War II. After years of delays and court proceedings, Demjanjuk was finally deported to Germany in 2009. He was arrested there, tried, and convicted as an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews. Demjanjuk died in 2012 at age 91.

2008 – The Detroit Lions finish the season 0-16 after a 31-21 lost to the Green Bay Packers. It was the first time in National Football League history that a team went winless in a 16-game season.

2012 – Vladimir Putin signs into law a ban on the U.S. adoption of Russian children after a child who was adopted died three months after his arrival in the U.S. The boy died after being accidentally left in a car in July for nine hours.

December 29

1848 – Gas lights are first installed at the White House during the Polk administration.

1851 – The first chapter of America’s Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) opens in Boston, Massachusetts. There are about 2,700 YMCAs in the U.S.

1930 – Fred P. Newton completes the longest swim ever (1,826 miles) when he swims the Mississippi River from Ford Dam, Minnesota, to New Orleans, Louisiana. He was in the water for 742 hours over a five-month period. The feat still stands in the Guinness Book of Records.

1972 – Life magazine ceases weekly publication. It originally started in 1883 and went through several owners and eras. Watch a slide show of every Life cover from 1936 to 1972.

1992 – Governor Mario Cuomo grants clemency to Jean Harris, who killed Scarsdale Diet Doctor Dr. Herman Tarnower in 1980. Harris, who suffered several heart attacks, had previously been denied clemency several times. Harris died in 2012 at age 89.

2007 – New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady sets a (then) NFL record by throwing his 50th touchdown pass for the season. The Patriots became the first team in NFL history to finish the longer regular season at 16-0. They lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. The season high touchdown record now belongs to Peyton Manning, with 55 touchdown passes in 2013.

2016 – President Obama retaliates against Russia for allegedly hacking American computer systems and trying to influence the 2016 presidential election. He ejects 35 Russian spies and imposes sanctions.

December 30

1903 – An electric arc lamp sets fire to the Iroquois Theater in Chicago, leaving 602 people dead in the deadliest single-building blaze in American history.

1907 – Abraham Mills, head of the Mills commission, declares that Abner Doubleday invented baseball. The Commission was charged with settling a dispute over whether baseball evolved from the British game of Rounders or, as Albert Spalding contended, was invented in America.

1924 – Edwin Hubble announces the existence of other galactic systems after he views the spiral nebula Andromeda through a telescope. The space telescope, named for Hubble, was launched in April 1990. Hubble died in 1953 at age 63.

1953 – The first color television sets, made by RCA, go on sale for about $1,175 each.

1968 – Frank Sinatra first records the song “My Way.” The lyrics were written by Paul Anka. Watch Sinatra sing his signature song live.

1988 – Oliver North subpoenas President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush as defense witnesses for his upcoming Iran-Contra trial. Reagan testified in February 1990. North was convicted on three of 16 felony counts, but his conviction was vacated on appeal in 1990.

2003 – Attorney General John Ashcroft recuses himself and his office from the Valerie Plame affair. Plame was a CIA employee and wife of the former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Robert Novak wrote a newspaper column about whether false information provided by Plame was used to justify the Iraq war during the Bush administration.

December 31

1879 – The cornerstone is laid for Iolani Palace in Hawaii, the only royal palace in the U.S. It was used as the royal Hawaiian residence until the monarchy was overthrown in 1893. Hawaii became a state in 1959. The palace was used as the state capital building until 1969 and opened as a museum in 1978.

1890 – Ellis Island in New York opens as a U.S. immigration depot.

1904 – The first New Year’s Eve celebration is held in Times Square, known as Longacre Square, in New York City.

1907 – For the first time the ball drops at Times Square to signal the start of a new year. The first New Year’s Eve ball, made of iron and wood, was adorned with one hundred 25-watt light bulbs, was 5 feet in diameter, and weighed 700 pounds. It has been lowered every year since, except for 1942 and 1943.

1935 – Charles Darrow patents the board game Monopoly. Parker Brothers negotiated the rights to mass-produce the game, making Darrow the first game designer to be a millionaire. Darrow is better known as the defense attorney for the teacher in the Scopes Monkey Trial and in the Leopold and Loeb murder trial. Darrow died in 1967 at age 78.

1940 – The first monthly U.S. social security payment is made to Ida May Fuller of Vermont for $22.54. She collected social security payments until her death in 1975 at age 100.

1961 – The Marshall Plan (the European Recovery Program) expires after more than $12 billion was distributed to European countries recovering from WWII.

1967 – In the “Ice Bowl,” the Packers beat the Cowboys 21-17 in the NFL championship game. The temperature of -13°F made it the coldest football game on record. The wind chill factor was -48°F.

1974 – The ban on “hoarding” gold in the U.S. ends. In 1933, President FDR signed Executive Order 6102 making it illegal to own gold, except in small amounts or in the form of gold coins or certificates. Gold was turned over to the Federal Reserve in exchange for $20.67 per troy ounce.

1999 – The U.S. turns over control of Panama Canal to Panama during the Carter administration. The U.S. built the Canal from 1903 to 1914.

2007 – The Central Artery/ Tunnel Project, known as the “Big Dig,” is completed in Boston, Massachusetts. It was the most expensive highway project in U.S. history, costing more than $14 billion. The project was scheduled for completion in 1998 at a cost of less than $3 billion. Watch a CBS This Morning report on the dig.

2020 – The WHO grants the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorization.

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