This Week in History: Feb. 12-18, 2024


This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate
their own understanding of their history.” George Orwell

Feb. 12-18, 2024

February 12

1793 – The first U.S. fugitive slave law is passed, requiring the return of escaped slaves. The Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 were not repealed until 1864.

1876 – Al Spalding opens his first sporting goods shop with his brother Walter. Al Spalding was a baseball player, manager, owner, and entrepreneur. He also published the first official rule guide for baseball in 1878. Spalding died in 1915 at age 65.

1908 – The New York City to Paris great auto race begins. The route included Albany, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Valdez (Alaska), Vladivostok, Omsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Berlin, and finally Paris. George Schuster won behind the wheel of his Thomas Flyer, covering three continents and over 22,000 miles in 169 days. The feat has never been duplicated or equaled. Schuster died in 1972 at age 99.

1955 – President Eisenhower sends the first U.S. advisors to South Vietnam. The first combat troops were sent to Vietnam in 1965. The Vietnam Conflict officially ended in 1975.

1973 – The first U.S. POWs in North Vietnam are released – 116 of the 456 POWs were flown to the Philippines. There are still almost 1,600 MIAs (Missing In Action) from the Vietnam War.

1984 – Cale Yarborough becomes the first Daytona 500 qualifier to reach more than 200 MPH, and wins his fourth Daytona 500. He won in 1968, 1977, 1983, and 1984, making him second among winning drivers behind Richard Petty (7 wins). Yarborough died in 2023 at age 84.

1999 – President Clinton is acquitted by the Senate, by a vote of 55 to 45, on the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice during his impeachment trial. Clinton had been impeached in the House of Representatives on the same charges on December 19, 1998.

2001 – The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) Shoemaker spacecraft, launched in 1996, touches down on 433 Eros, becoming the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid.

2004 – Mattel announces that “Barbie” and “Ken” are breaking up. The dolls met on the set of their first television commercial together in 1961. Russell Arons, VP of Mattel marketing, said that Ken and Barbie “feel it’s time to spend quality time – apart,” suggesting that the split was partially due to Ken’s reluctance to get married. Watch the original 1961 commercial.

February 13

1795 – The University of North Carolina opens, becoming the first state university in the U.S.

1866 – Jesse James robs his first bank, the Clay County Savings Association in Liberty, Missouri, netting $60,000. James was killed in 1882 at age 34 when he was shot in the back of the head at his home by fellow gang member Robert Ford. Ford was shot to death 10 years later at age 30.

1909 – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded. Jewish social worker Henry Moskowitz, Ph.D was the co-founder, and Moorefield Storey, a white lawyer, served as its first president.

1935 – Bruno Hauptmann is found guilty of kidnapping and murdering the 20-month-old Lindbergh baby during “The Trial of the Century.” Hauptman was executed in the electric chair in 1936.

1957 – The Southern Christian Leadership Conference organizes in New Orleans. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as its first president.

1984 – Six-year-old Stormie Jones of Texas receives the first successful heart and liver transplant. Jones died in 1990 at age 13.

1997 – The Space Shuttle Discovery captures the Hubble Space Telescope to make repairs. Watch Discovery astronauts repair the telescope.

2000 – The final “Peanuts” comic strip appears in newspapers. Its creator, Charles M. Schulz, died the day before at age 77. The comic strip was launched by Schulz in January of 1950.

2002 – Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani receives an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.

February 14

1803 – Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall declares that any act of the U.S. Congress that conflicts with the Constitution is void.

1876 – Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray apply separately for telephone patents. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that Bell was the rightful inventor.

1929 – Seven gangsters are killed in Chicago, allegedly on Al Capone’s orders, in what became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

1978 – The first “micro on a chip” is patented by Texas Instruments. It was designed by Gary Boone and Michael Cochran.

1989 – The first of 24 satellites of the Global Positioning System (GPS) are placed into Earth’s orbit.

1990 – Space probe Voyager 1, launched in 1977, takes a photograph of our entire solar system. It carried a gold-plated audio-visual disc containing photos of Earth life forms, scientific information, music, and sounds of the Earth in the event it was found by intelligent life forms. Voyager’s mission is expected to continue collecting and sending back data until 2025, when it won’t have enough power to operate its instruments. It is 14 billion miles from Earth.

2002 – The House of Representatives passes the Shays-Meehan bill. The bill bans millions of dollars of unregulated money that goes to the national political parties. John McCain and Russ Feingold pushed a similar bill in the Senate.

2005 – The video-sharing website YouTube is activated. Watch the first video ever uploaded on YouTube.

2011 – Barbie and Ken get back together after they split up in 2004.

February 15

1903 – The first Teddy Bear, named for President Theodore Roosevelt, is made by Morris and Rose Michtom.

1932 – George Burns and Gracie Allen debut as regulars on the “Guy Lombardo Show” on the radio. Gracie Allen died in 1964 at age 69 and George Burns died in 1996 at age 100.

1932 – U.S. bobsled team member Eddie Eagan becomes the only athlete to win gold medals in both the Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics. He also won gold in 1920 in boxing. Egan died in 1995 at age 65. Watch a bio of the impressive career of Eagan.

1961 – The entire 18 member U.S. figure skating team dies in a plane crash en route to the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague. One of the skaters who died was 16-year-old Laurence Owen, who won the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in January. She appeared on the February 13th cover of Sports Illustrated. Watch her skate just one month before her death.

1992 – Jeffrey Dahmer is found sane and subsequently convicted of killing 15 boys and sentenced to 15 life terms in prison. Dahmer was murdered in prison in 1994 at age 34 by then 25-year-old Christopher Scarver.

2002 – Investigators find 339 uncremated bodies disposed of in the woods and buildings at the Tri-State Crematory in LaFayette, Georgia. It was one of the worst incidents of abuse in the funeral service industry. Ray Brent Marsh, the founder’s son, eventually plead guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The conditions of his probation included writing a letter of apology to each of the designated representatives for each of the identified remains.

February 16

1838 – Kentucky passes a law permitting women to attend school under certain conditions.

1852 – The Studebaker Brothers Wagon Company is established. It was the precursor of automobile manufacturing.

1857 – Gallaudet College (National Deaf Mute College) forms in Washington, DC. Edward Miner Gallaudet, founder of the first school for deaf students in the U.S., became the new school’s first superintendent.

1883 – “Ladies Home Journal” begins publication. In 1903, it became the first American magazine to reach 1 million in subscriptions. In 2014, the Meredith Corporation announced it would cease publishing the monthly magazine, saying it would be published quarterly. Publication ceased in 2016.

1937 – DuPont Corporation patents nylon, developed by its employee Wallace H. Carothers.

1950 – The longest-running prime-time game show at the time, “What’s My Line,” premiers on CBS-TV and airs until 1967. An all-star panel tried to guess the contestant’s occupation. The first contestant was Miss Pat Finch, a hat check girl. The first “mystery guest,” when the panelists are blindfolded, was Yankee baseball great Phil Rizzuto. Currently, the longest-running game show is Wheel of Fortune. Watch a montage of Pat Finch on What’s My Line.

1968 – The first 911 emergency phone system in the U.S. goes into service in Haleyville, Alabama.

2005 – National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman cancels the 2004-05 hockey season. This was the first time a North American professional sports league canceled the entire season due to a labor dispute.

February 17

1801 – The House of Representatives breaks an Electoral College tie, after casting three dozen ballots, choosing Thomas Jefferson for president over Aaron Burr. Each candidate received 73 votes, but electors failed to distinguish between the office of President and Vice President.

1864 – The Confederate submarine “H.L. Hunley” sinks the Union ship “Housatonic,” becoming the first submarine to sink an enemy ship. The Hunley also sank after the attack, but that wasn’t known until it failed to return to base. The wreckage was discovered in 1970, but it wasn’t recovered until 2000.

1905 – Frances Willard – educator, temperance reformer, and women’s suffragist – becomes the first woman honored in National Statuary Hall in Washington, DC. Willard died in 1898 at age 58.

1943 – New York Yankee and future Baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio enlists into the U.S. Army. After being hospitalized with stomach ulcers, DiMaggio was released from the service in September of 1945. He returned to play for the New York Yankees in 1946 and retired in 1951.

1947 – Voice of America begins radio broadcasting to the USSR. The Soviet Union responded by initiating electronic jamming of VOA broadcasts in April.

1964 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules one man one vote in Westberry v Sanders after James Westberry filed suit against Georgia Governor Carl Sanders over the unequal apportionment of congressional districts.

1969 – Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash record an album together, but it was never released. Listen to the amazing recording session with photos and videos.

1995 – A Federal judge allows a lawsuit claiming U.S. tobacco makers knew nicotine was addictive and manipulated its levels to keep customers hooked.

2016 – Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook confirms that Apple will contest an FBI order to unlock the phone of radical Muslim terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook after the mass murder in San Bernardino. The FBI was able to unlock the phone without Apple’s help.

February 18

1841 – The first continuous filibuster in the U.S. Senate begins over the dismissal of the printer for the Senate and lasts until March 11th.

1861 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis is inaugurated in Montgomery, Alabama. Davis had resigned his seat as a U.S. senator from Mississippi in January.

1878 – Outlaw Jessie Evans murders John Tunstall, sparking the Lincoln County War in New Mexico between immigrant English and Irish ranchers and merchants. Tensions and murders raged until 1884. One of the combatants was Billy the Kid.

1929 – The first Academy Awards, hosted by Douglas Fairbanks, are announced. “Wings” starring Clara Bow and Gary Cooper won for Best Picture.

1932 – Sonja Henie wins her 6th straight World Women’s figure skating title. Henie won Olympic gold medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936. She moved to the U.S. and became a movie star. Henie died in 1969 at age 57.

1978 – Fifteen competitors race in the first Ironman Triathlon (swim, bike ride, and marathon) held in Kona, Hawaii. Gordon Haller was the winner, completing the race in 11 hours and 46 minutes. U.S. Navy Commander John Collins founded the event as a way to determine whether swimmers, cyclists, or runners are more fit. Watch a 2013 interview with Haller.

2001 – FBI agent Robert Hanssen is arrested for spying for the Soviet Union. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms in prison after a plea deal enabled him to escape the death penalty. The Department of Justice described his espionage as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history. The movies “Master Spy” and “Breach” were made about his life as a spy. Hanssen is now 79 years old.

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