This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history
is the most important of all the lessons of history.” Aldous Huxley
Dec 7-13, 2020
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 is 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.
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.
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. Their most recent launch was on November 30, 2020.
1803 – Congress passes the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, directing Electors to vote for a President and for a Vice-President rather than for two choices for President. Previously, the presidential candidate who received the most votes became president and the candidate with the second-most votes became vice president.
1878 – Joseph Pulitzer buys the St. Louis Dispatch newspaper for $2,500 and merges it with the St. Louis Post, creating the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The first edition was published on December 12th and the newspaper is still in circulation.
1935 – Jay Berwanger is the first recipient of the college football’s Heisman Trophy. Watch ESPN compiled footage of Berwanger in action.
1958 – Robert H.W. Welch Jr. and 11 other men meet in Indianapolis, Indiana, to form the anti-Communist John Birch Society. The organization was named for John Morrison Birch, a minister, missionary, and Air Force captain, who was killed by Chinese Communists at age 27 a few days after the end of WWII.
1978 – The first Women’s Professional Basketball League (WNBL) game is played. WNBL’s Chicago Hustle defeated the Milwaukee Does 92-87. The league is disbanded in 1981. Watch the first slam dunk in a WNBL game.
2008 – Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, is arrested by federal officials for a number of alleged crimes including wire fraud, attempted extortion, conspiracy to solicit bribes, and others related to his attempt to sell the Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama’s election to the Presidency. Blago was sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in prison for corruption. Four of the 18 charges were overturned in July 2015 on appeal. In August 2016, a district judge ruled that the 14-year sentence would stand. In February 2020, President Trump commuted his sentence. Blago will be 64 years old tomorrow.
1690 – Massachusetts Bay becomes first American colonial government to issue paper money.
1869 – The Wyoming Territory is the first grant women the right to vote. Women did not get the right to vote nationally until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919.
1898 – The Spanish-American War formally ended with the Treaty of Paris. The U.S. acquired the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam.
1906 – President Theodore Roosevelt is the first American to be awarded a Nobel Prize. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
1931 – Jane Addams, social worker and founder of Hull House, is the first American woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Watch a film about Addams and Hull House.
1936 – Edward VIII abdicates the British throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. They were married the following year.
1964 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. King was assassinated April 4, 1968.
1974 – The joint U.S.-German Helios 1 spacecraft is launched. In February 1975 it came closer to the sun than any other previous spacecraft.
2016 – The Nobel Prize ceremony is held in Stockholm, Sweden, without Bob Dylan in attendance. Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but declined to attend the ceremony. He finally accepted the award in June of 2017.
1620 – One hundred two Mayflower pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock. Forty-five died the first winter and were buried on Cole’s Hill.
1930 – The Bank of the United States in New York City closes after an estimated 2,500-3,000 depositors withdraw $2 million from the bank the day before. This run on the bank is seen as the beginning of the Great Depression.
1951 – Joe DiMaggio announces his retirement from baseball saying, “When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game, and so, I’ve played my last game.” He is best known for his 56-game hitting streak (May 15-July 16, 1941), a record that still stands. DiMaggio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.
1964 – Cuban Marxist Revolutionary Che Guevara speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. An unknown terrorist fired a mortar shell at the building during the speech.
1972 – Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in Apollo 17 become the 11th and 12th (and last) men to walk on the Moon. Schmitt is now 85 years old. Watch Gene Cernan, who died in 2017 at age 82, hop on the moon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKdwcLytloU
1981 – Muhammad Ali, at age 39, fights his 61st (and last) bout. He lost to Trevor Berbick. Ali died in 2016 at age 74.
1985 – The Dow Jones closes above 1,500 for the first time (1,511.70).
1991 – Salman Rushdie, under an Islamic death sentence for blasphemy after publishing “The Satanic Verses,” makes his first public appearance since 1989 at a New York dinner marking the 200th anniversary of the First Amendment (which guarantees freedom of speech in the U.S.). Watch a New York Times interview with Rushdie.
2008 – Bernard Madoff is arrested and charged with securities fraud in a $50 billion Ponzi scheme. In 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison and ordered to pay $170 billion in restitution. His projected release date is 2139, when he will be 201. Madoff is now 82 years old.
2015 – “Playboy” magazine publishes its last nude issue, which features Pamela Anderson on the cover. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died in 2017 at age 91.
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 happens when the Dow drops 24.39 percent. The Dow closed at 54 points.
1925 – “Motel Inn,” the first motel in the world, opens in San Luis Obispo, California. The motel finally closed in the 1970s and most of the structures were bulldozed in 2005. A San Louis Obispo development company plans to build a 55-room hotel on the site.
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 97 years old.
1963 – Frank Sinatra, Jr., age 19, is released after being kidnapped on December 8th, when 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 is now 78, Irwin disappeared after release from prison, and Amsler died in 2006 at age 65. Watch a newsreel of the ordeal.
1980 – U.S. copyright law is amended to include computer software programs.
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.
1997 – A federal judge sentences 23-year-old Autumn Jackson, who claims to be Bill Cosby’s daughter, to 26 months in jail for trying to extort $40 million from Cosby. He admitted to having an affair with her mother and paying for Autumn’s education.
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.
Image from: britannica.com