This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann
“History is a vast early warning system.” Norman Cousins
Jan 30-Feb 5, 2023
1798 – The first brawl in the House of Representatives takes place when Congressmen Matthew Lyon and Roger Griswold fight on the House floor. Although a committee investigating the incident recommended they both be censured, the House rejected the motion. Lyon also was the only person ever elected to Congress while in jail. He was found guilty of violating the newly enacted Alien and Sedition Acts, and as such, was the first person to be convicted under that statute. He spent four months in jail. During the presidential election of 1800, it was Lyon who changed his vote to break the tie that allowed Jefferson to be elected over incumbent John Adams.
1815 – The Library of Congress, burned by the British during the War of 1812, is reestablished with 6,487 books bought from Thomas Jefferson at a cost of $23,950.
1835 – Andrew Jackson becomes the first president to be the victim of an assassination attempt when Richard Lawrence’s gun misfires in the Capitol Building. Jackson clubbed Lawrence with his cane. The prosecuting attorney during the trial was Francis Scott Key. British-born Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and institutionalized until his death in 1861.
1862 – The U.S. Navy’s first ironclad warship, the USS Monitor, is launched. The Monitor and the USS Virginia (formerly the Merrimack) engaged in the first ironclad battle on March 9th. Neither ship sustained serious damage but the Monitor sank in bad weather off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, later the same year.
1962 – Two members of the Flying Wallendas high-wire act are killed when their 7-person chair pyramid collapses during a performance in Detroit, Michigan. The Wallenda family started as circus performers in the 1780s in Europe. Watch a video of the family and accident (first 2 minutes) and the next generation pyramid (at 5:35).
1989 – The American embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, closes over security concerns. The embassy reopened in 2002 following Operation Enduring Freedom. It was attacked by the Taliban in September 2011 and again in April 2012. Operations at the embassy were briefly suspended during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal in August 2021.
2003 – Richard Reid, aka the Shoe Bomber, is sentenced to three consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. He pleaded guilty to eight counts related to his terrorist attempt to ignite a bomb in his shoe on a flight from Paris to Miami, Florida, on December 22, 2001. U.S. airlines subsequently required all airline passengers to remove their shoes prior to boarding aircraft. Reid is now 49 years old.
1865 – Congress passes the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery in America by declaring that, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
1905 – The first auto to exceed 100 mph is driven by A. G. MacDonald at Daytona Beach, Florida.
1949 – “These Are My Children” airs as the first daytime soap opera on TV. It ran for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 5 weeks.
1958 – Explorer I is launched as the first successful U.S. satellite. It orbited Earth carrying instruments to measure cosmic rays, micrometeorites, and its own temperature. It transmitted data until May 23, 1958, and reentered Earth’s atmosphere in 1970 after orbiting 58,000 times.
1984 – Newscaster Edwin Newman retires from NBC News after 35 years with the network. Newman died in 2010 at age 91. Watch Newman in a 1983 report.
2000 – Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Lewis and his companions are involved in a fight that led to the death of two men. Murder charges against Lewis were changed to obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony against his companions. Lewis was sentenced to 1-year-probation and fined $250,000. Nevertheless, Lewis was named MVP of the Super Bowl champions Baltimore Ravens on January 28, 2001, and inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in August 2018.
2017 – President Donald Trump announced he will nominate Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court to succeed Antonin Scalia.
1790 – The Supreme Court convenes for the first time in New York City. There were six justices.
1905 – The USDA Forest Service is created within the Department of Agriculture. The agency was given the mission to sustain healthy, diverse, and productive forests and grasslands for present and future generations.
1906 – The first federal penitentiary building is completed in Leavenworth, Kansas. It was the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S. until 2005 when it was downgraded to a minimum-security prison.
1953 – “General Electric Theater” premieres on TV, a show later hosted by Ronald Reagan.
1960 – Four freshmen from North Carolina A&T University stage the first civil rights sit-in at a Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth’s store. A section of the lunch counter is now in the Smithsonian Museum. Two of the four students are still living, Joseph McNeil (80) and Ezell Blair, Jr. (81). Watch a History.com feature about the sit-in.
1961 – The first full-scale test of a U.S. Minuteman-I Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) is successful. A total of 800 ICBMs were delivered to U.S. military bases. The U.S. currently operates 405 Minuteman-III ICBMs at three Air Force bases.
1989 – Princess Diana of England visits New York City for three days. It was her first visit to New York and her major official trip without her husband, Prince Charles. Princess Diana died in 1997 at age 36.
2003 – The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates over Texas and Louisiana during reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard. A piece of foam that fell off the external fuel tank during launch struck the left wing, causing damage that led to the accident on reentry. It was Columbia’s 28th mission. Space Shuttle flights were suspended for more than two years.
2004 – Janet Jackson has a “wardrobe malfunction” when her breast is exposed during the half-time show of Super Bowl XLVIII (38), resulting in U.S. broadcasters adopting a stronger adherence to FCC censorship guidelines. You decide.
1848 – The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican-American War. The U.S. acquired Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona for $15 million.
1863 – Samuel Clemens uses the pen name Mark Twain for the first time. Twain means two and mark twain signifies a safe depth of two fathoms (12 feet) in the Mississippi River.
1925 – Dogsleds reach Nome, Alaska, after a 1,000-km relay carrying emergency serum for a diphtheria epidemic. The Iditarod Race is a re-creation of that relay. A statue of Balto, the lead dog, stands in New York City’s Central Park. Watch a Smithsonian Channel history of the Iditarod as it honors that 1925 lifesaving relay.
1935 – The lie detector, invented by Leonarde Keeler, is first used in court in Portage, Wisconsin. Two criminals were convicted of assault after the polygraph test results were read in court.
1980 – The FBI releases details of Abscam, a sting operation that targeted 31 elected and public officials for bribes and political favors. One senator and six representatives were convicted after their trials in 1981. Abscam came from the name of the fake company (Abdul Enterprises) the FBI used to target (scam) corrupt politicians.
2004 – It is reported that a white powder had been found in an office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later confirmed that the powder was the poison ricin. Two other letters were found in October and November 2003. No one has ever been arrested.
1690 – The Massachusetts Bay Colony issues the first paper money in (what would later become) America.
1870 – The 15th Amendment is passed. Although it declared that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” poll taxes and literacy tests kept the 15th Amendment from being fully applied until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.
1930 – Former president William Howard Taft (1909-1913) resigns as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for health reasons. Taft was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1921, making him the only president to also serve on the Supreme Court. Taft died the following month at age 72.
1973 – President Richard Nixon signs the Endangered Species Act into law.
1984 – The first baby conceived by embryo transplant is born in Long Beach, California. The embryo was conceived in one woman’s womb and transferred to another woman without using test tube fertilization. The baby boy was born 38 weeks after the procedure was performed.
1990 – Jockey Billy Shoemaker retires at age 58 after 40,350 horse races with a 22% win record, making him the winningest jockey. He was paralyzed in an auto accident in 1991 and trained horses from his electric wheelchair. His record has since been eclipsed by jockeys Laffit A. Pincay, Jr. and Russel A. Baze. Shoemaker died in 2003 at age 77. Watch his last race with a short bio.
2019 – The New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in the lowest scoring Super Bowl. It was the Patriots’ 6th Super Bowl win, tying with the Steelers for the most wins. The San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys are tied with five wins each.
1787 – Shays’ Rebellion (by debt-ridden Massachusetts farmers) fails. Daniel Shays led a group of farmers who revolted against the government for seizing the farms of farmers who couldn’t pay their taxes due to harsh economic conditions. Since the federal government was unable to finance an army due to lack of money, the Massachusetts governor raised money from local merchants and created a privately-funded militia army that ultimately defeated the Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays and local farmers.
1861 – The Provisional Congress of Confederate States of America holds its first meeting in Montgomery, Alabama. The states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina elected Jefferson Davis as President of Confederacy.
1974 – Patty Hearst, granddaughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst, is kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and held for 19 months. Patty is now 68 years old. Watch a brief look back at her kidnapping.
1991 – The Baseball Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors votes 12-0 to bar Pete Rose for life for betting on baseball games. Rose appealed the decision several times, but the ban still stands because he was deemed “permanently ineligible.” Rose is 81 years old.
1997 – OJ Simpson is found libel in the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. OJ was found not guilty in his 1995 criminal trial. He later served a 9-year sentence after his 2008 conviction for armed robbery and kidnapping. OJ was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1985 because the bylaws stipulated that only a player’s achievements on the football field are considered as criteria for induction in the Hall of Fame. He is 75 years old.
2004 – Facebook is launched by Mark Zuckerberg from his Harvard dormitory after he steals the idea from his fellow classmates.
1778 – South Carolina becomes the first state to ratify the Articles of Confederation. It was replaced by the Constitution in 1788.
1922 – Reader’s Digest magazine is first published. Roy DeWitt Wallace came up with the idea of publishing articles on various subjects while he was recovering from wounds he received during World War I. Wallace was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Nixon in 1972. Wallace died 1981 at age 91.
1973 – A funeral is held for Lt. Col. William Nolde, the last U.S. soldier killed in the Vietnam War. Nolde was killed in combat 11 hours before the ceasefire under the Paris Peace Accord became effective.
1991 – A Michigan court bars Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a euthanasia activist, from assisting in suicides. Between 1994 and 1997 Kevorkian was tried four times for participating in assisted suicides. He was acquitted three times (the fourth was a mistrial). In 1999 Kevorkian was convicted of 2nd degree murder and served 8 years of his 10-15-year sentence. He died in 2011 at age 83. Watch a brief CNN news report.
2003 – Secretary of State Colin Powell presents evidence to the U.N. concerning Iraq’s material breach of U.N. Resolution 1441, which was unanimously passed in 2002. Its purpose was to give Saddam Hussain yet another opportunity to comply with the disarmament obligations set out in 10 previous resolutions.
2018 – The Dow Jones has its largest one-day point loss in history. It dropped 1,175.21 points. That record stood until March 16, 2020, when the Dow dropped 2,997 points amid concerns over the Coronavirus.
Image from: the-scientist.com