This Week in History: Feb. 19-25, 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. 19-25, 2024

February 19

1807 – Former Vice President Aaron Burr is arrested in Alabama for treason, but is later found innocent. He was charged with treason for an alleged conspiracy to provoke a rebellion and take parts of the south by force from the Union. In 1804, while serving as vice president, Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.

1859 – Dan Sickles is acquitted of murder on grounds of temporary insanity. It was the first time this defense was successfully used.

1913 – The first prize is inserted into a Cracker Jack box. In 1896, the snack’s creator Louis Rueckheim gave the treat to a salesman who exclaimed, “That’s a cracker, Jack!” So Rueckheim trademarked the name.

1942 – President FDR orders the detention and internment of all west coast Japanese-Americans during World War II. Twelve detention centers in California and one in Oregon house more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans. In December of 1944, FDR announced the end of the detentions and the internees returned home. By then, they had lost their homes, businesses, and possessions. President Ronald Reagan signed into law The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, providing an apology and redress to the internees still living, although nearly half of those who had been imprisoned died before the bill was signed.

1953 – Baseball star Ted Williams, recalled for active duty as a Marine fighter pilot in 1952, safely crash lands his damaged Panther jet in Korea. Williams was awarded the Air Medal and two Gold Stars before being discharged for health reasons. Williams retired from baseball in 1960, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966, and died in 2002 at age 83. His son had Williams’ body cryogenically frozen in Scottsdale, Arizona.

1974 – The first American Music Award are held. Helen Reddy and Jim Croce (posthumously) won. Jim Croce died in a plane crash the previous September at age 30.

1986 – The U.S. Senate ratifies the United Nation’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 36 years after it is adopted by the UN.

1987 – An anti-smoking ad by the American Cancer Society, featuring Yul Brynner, airs for the first time on TV. It was filmed two years before, but aired just months before Brynner died of lung cancer. Watch Yul Brynner’s plea.

2002 – NASA’s Mars Odyssey space probe begins to map the surface of Mars using its thermal emission imaging system.

February 20

1792 – The U.S. postal service is created. Postage cost 6 cents to 12 cents depending on the distance.

1809 – In United States v Peters, the Supreme Court rules the federal government’s power is greater than any state.

1872 – The Metropolitan Museum of Art opens in New York City. It is the fourth largest art museum in the world. The Lourve in Paris, France, is the largest.

1937 – The first combination automobile/airplane is tested in Santa Monica, California. Designed by aero-engineer Waldo Dean Waterman, it claimed a top air speed of 120 mph and highway speed of 70 mph. Watch it drive and fly.

1943 – Phil Wrigley (the chewing gum mogul) and Branch Rickey (who signed up baseball’s Jackie Robinson) charter the All-American Girls Softball League. The 1992 movie “A League of Their Own” starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis was a fictionalized account of the league’s history.

1962 – John Glenn, on board Friendship 7, is the first American to orbit the Earth. He served four terms as a U.S. Senator from Ohio before returning to space on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1988. Glenn died in 2016 at age 95.

1992 – Ross Perot announces on the Larry King Show that he’ll run for President. He received 18.9 percent of the popular vote but no Electoral College votes. Perot died in 2019 at age 89.

2002 – Jim Shea, Jr. wins the gold medal in skeleton (sled) racing at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, making him the 1st third-generation Olympian. His father and grandfather both won medals in the 1964 and 1932 Olympics respectively. Jim’s grandfather was killed in a car crash just one month before Jim won the gold medal. Watch Shea’s amazing run.

February 21

1885 – The Washington Monument is dedicated in Washington, DC. Construction took place in two phases, 1848-1856 and 1876-1884. Lack of funds and the Civil War halted the building process. By the time construction resumed at the 150’ level, the color within the marble and granite stone quarries had changed. That color change line is still visible on the monument.

1947 – Edwin H. Land demonstrates the first instant developing camera he invented in New York City. He was the founder of the Polaroid Corporation in 1937. Land died in 1991 at age 81.

1965 – Malcolm X is assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam. He was 39 years old. Of the three men involved in the shooting, only Thomas Hagan was convicted. In a May 2020 interview, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan acknowledged that some of the things he said may have led to the death of Malcolm X. A year before the assassination, Louis Farrakhan said “hypocrites like Malcolm should have their heads cut off.”

1988 – During a live TV broadcast, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart (then age 52) admits to visiting a prostitute. He then announced he would leave his ministry for an unspecified length of time. Swaggart was defrocked in April by the Assemblies of God and ordered to stay off TV for a year, but returned after only three months. Swaggart is now 88 years old and still on the Internet and TV. Watch his TV apology with a report.

1995 – Steve Fossett completes the first air balloon flight over the Pacific Ocean. In 2002, Fossett was the first person to circumnavigate the Earth in a balloon. He disappeared during an airplane flight in 2007. His remains were found in 2008. He was 63 years old.

2016 – Denny Hamlin wins the Daytona 500 by the closest margin in race history – just 0.01 seconds (1/100) – just inches ahead of Martin Truex, Jr.

February 22

1784 – The first U.S. ship to trade with China, “Empress of China,” sets sails from New York.

1878 – Frank Winfield Woolworth obtains credit from his former boss, William Moore, along with some savings, to buy merchandise and open the “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” in Utica, New York, which failed in May of the same year.

1935 – Airplanes are no longer permitted to fly over the White House when a no-fly zone is created.

1972 – Richard Nixon becomes the first U.S. president to visit China. He meets with the Chinese premier Mao Zedong in Beijing.

1980 – The U.S. Olympic ice hockey team upsets the USSR 4-3 in what instantly becomes known as the “Miracle on Ice.” The U.S. went on to win the Olympic gold medal in Lake Placid. Watch the miracle.

2010 – A copy of “Action Comics #1” featuring the introduction of Superman sells at auction for $1 million.

February 23

1836 – The Alamo is besieged for 13 days by the Mexican army under General Santa Anna. By March 6th the entire garrison had been killed. The Alamo was built as the chapel of the Mission San Antonio de Valero in Texas.

1861 – President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrives secretly in Washington, DC to take office because seven states have already seceded from the Union since the election. Noted private detective Allen Pinkerton uncovered an assassination plot and escorted Lincoln to Washington.

1904 – The U.S. acquires control of the Panama Canal Zone for $10 million. President Jimmy Carter returned control of the Canal to Panama in 1999.

1945 – U.S. Marines raise the American flag on Iwo Jima. The famous photo became the model for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial erected at Arlington National Cemetery. Hershel “Woody” Williams was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle for Iwo Jima. He died in 2022 at age 98. Watch an interview with Woody.

1954 – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is the site of the first mass inoculation against polio using the vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. There have been no new cases of polio in the U.S. since 1979. Salk died in 1995 at age 80.

1971 – Lieutenant William Calley confesses to the My Lai massacre in Viet Nam in April 1969 and implicates his commander Captain Ernest Medina. Medina was acquitted and Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor. After numerous appeals Calley served only 3 ½ years of house arrest. Calley is now 80 years old.

1980 – American Eric Heiden wins all five speed skating gold medals at the Lake Placid Olympics. Heiden is now 65 years old. Watch Heiden win all 5 medals.

1998 – The Supreme Court lets stand Megan’s Law. Megan’s Law (named for 7-year-old Megan Kanka who was raped and murdered by a repeat sex offender) allows the information on registered sex offenders to be made public.

2008 – A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit (Stealth Bomber) crashes at Anderson Air Force Base in Guam. The crew survived but the aircraft was destroyed, making it the most expensive air crash in history (the aircraft alone cost $1.2 billion). The B-2 had a perfect safety record before the crash.

February 24

1803 – The Supreme Court makes its first ruling that a law is unconstitutional (Marbury v Madison). This decision marked the case for judicial review, cementing the Supreme Court as a separate but equal branch of government.

1868 – The first U.S. parade with floats, the Mardi Gras Parade, is held in Mobile, Alabama. Mobile was also the site of the oldest Mardi Gras celebration, dating back to 1703.

1868 – The House of Representatives votes 126 to 47 to impeach President Andrew Johnson. His Senate impeachment trial began on March 13, but Johnson’s opponents failed to get the needed two-thirds majority to convict him. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, but was not removed from office. In 2019, Donald Trump was impeached twice, but also not removed from office. The first attempted presidential impeachment attempt was John Tyler in 1843, which failed in the House by a vote of 127-83.

1903 – The U.S. signs an agreement acquiring a naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It now serves as a military prison. Although President Obama promised to close the facility, Congress passed laws to prohibit the detainees from being transferred to the U.S. Obama reduced the number of detainees from 245 to 41 by releasing them or transferring them to other countries. In 2018, President Trump signed an executive order keeping the detention camp open.

1942 – The U.S. stops shipments of all 12-gauge shotguns for sporting use as part of the wartime effort.

1999 – The State of Arizona executes Karl LaGrand, a German national involved in an armed robbery, in spite of Germany’s legal action to save him.

2011 – The Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-133) is launched for the final time. The last Space Shuttle launch was the Atlantis (STS-135) in July 2011. Watch the launch including videos attached to the shuttle.

February 25

1793 – George Washington holds the first cabinet meeting at his home in Mt. Vernon, Virginia. In attendance was Vice President John Adams (future president), Secretary of State John Jay (later the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (killed by Aaron Burr in a duel in 1804), Secretary of War Henry Knox (for whom Fort Knox in Kentucky is named), and Attorney General Edmund Randolph (former governor of Virginia).

1933 – The USS Ranger is christened as the first genuine aircraft carrier. The captain of the USS Ranger from 1937 to 1939 was the late Senator John McCain’s grandfather.

1950 – “Your Show of Shows” with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca premieres on NBC and airs until 1954. Writers included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, and Woody Allen. Coca died in 2001 at age 92. Caesar died in 2014 at age 91. Watch a pantomime sketch with Sid and Imogene.

1987 – The U.S. Supreme Court upholds Affirmative Action in a 6-3 decision with its only gender-based ruling in Johnson v. Transportation Agency. Paul Johnson claimed he was passed over for promotion by a woman, whom he claimed was less qualified.

1991 – The U.S. barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia is hit by a SCUD missile, killing 28 and wounding 89. Among the dead were three women, the first killed in the Persian Gulf War.

1995 – Frank Sinatra performs his final live concert in Palm Desert, California. Sinatra died in 1998 at age 82.

2019 – The Rotten Tomatoes film review site implements changes to its website “in an effort to streamline the site and provide users with a more enriched experience” after trolling of the “Captain Marvel” movie. One change is to not allow audience reviews before a film is released.

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