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. 9-15, 2019
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. The 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. Blago will be 63 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.
1941 – Germany and Italy declare war on U.S.
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 84 years old. Watch Gene Cernan, who died in 2017 at age 82, hop on the moon:
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 81 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 – The “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 96 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.
1793 – The first state road is authorized from Frankfort, Kentucky, to Cincinnati, Ohio.
1944 – Congress establishes the rank of General of the Army (five-star General). George C. Marshall was the first five-star general and Omar Bradley was the last. The five-star rank was retired in 1981 with the death of Omar Bradley.
1947 – The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is founded in Daytona Beach, Florida.
1986 – Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan & Jeana Yeager, takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, on the first non-stop, non-refueled flight around world. The trip was successfully completed on December 23rd. The Voyager is now on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Watch the tense and thrilling Voyager take off:
2012 – Twenty-eight people, including twenty children, are shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
1791 – The Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments to the Constitution) is ratified when Virginia gives its approval, making the two-thirds majority of states required for ratification.
1836 – A fire at the Patent Office in Washington, DC, destroys virtually all records.
1938 – Groundbreaking begins for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC. The memorial was dedicated in 1943. The statue of President Thomas Jefferson is 19 feet tall and weighs 5 tons.
1944 – Bandleader Major Glenn Miller’s plane is lost over the English Channel. The plane and crew were never found. Listen to a BBC radio broadcast with still photos and Miller’s music:
1952 – Christine Jorgensen (born George William Jorgensen) is the first person to undergo a sex-change operation. The surgery was done in Denmark. Jorgensen died in 1989 at age 62.
1965 – Gemini 6 is launched and makes the first rendezvous manned in space.
1979 – The World Court in The Hague rules that Iran should release all U.S. hostages. The hostages were released after 444 days, just moments after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as president on January 20, 1981.
1993 – John Williams makes his final appearance as conductor of The Boston Pops after 13 years at the helm. Williams was preceded by famed conductor Arthur Fiedler (longest tenured) and succeeded by Keith Lockhart, the current (20th and second-longest tenured) conductor. Watch Williams conduct his theme from “Star Wars”:
2000 – New York Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton accepts an $8 million deal with Simon & Schuster for a book about her eight years in the White House. The advance is the highest ever to be paid to a member of Congress. Hilary received a $14 million advance for her subsequent book “Hard Choices,” which tanked. In 2017 she published another book, “What Happened,” about her stunning loss in the 2016 presidential election.
2015 – The mayor of Flint, Michigan, declares a state of emergency over lead contaminated water supplies amid calls for a criminal investigation. Fifteen current and former state officials, including the head Michigan’s health department, were charged in 2017 with various crimes, including obstruction of justice and involuntary manslaughter. Twelve deaths (from Legionnaire’s Disease) have been attributed to the tainted water.
Image from: espn.com