This Week in History: July 12-18, 2021


This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann

“If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall
possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in
need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.” Samuel Adams

July 12-18, 2021

July 12

1630 – New Amsterdam’s governor buys Gull Island from the Indians for cargo and renames it Oyster Island. It was later renamed Ellis Island.

1862 – Congress authorizes the Medal of Honor. More than 3,600 medals have been awarded to service men and women.

1909 – The resolution proposing the 16th Amendment (income tax) is passed by the 61st Congress and submitted to the state legislatures. The resolution read simply “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” The 16th Amendment was voted on by each state legislature and subsequently ratified on February 3, 1913.

1912 – “Queen Elizabeth” is the first foreign feature film shown in U.S. Watch a portion of the silent film.

1933 – Congress passes the first minimum wage law (25 cents per hour) as part of the National Industrial Recovery Act. The Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional in 1935.

1984 – U.S. Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-NY) is chosen by Democrat presidential candidate Walter Mondale to be his running mate. Ferraro became the first woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket. Ferraro died in 2011 at age 75. Watch part of her acceptance speech.

2009 – All television broadcasts in the U.S. switch from analog NTSC to digital ATSC transmission.

July 13

1787 – The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 establishes a government in the Northwest Territory. It allowed the territory to become at least 3 but no more than 5 states. Each would be admitted to the Union when the population reaches 60,000.

1836 – U.S. patent #1 is issued for locomotive wheels (after 9,957 unnumbered patents were issued!). Patent #10,000,000 (10 million!) was issued in 2018.

1923 – The Hollywood sign is officially dedicated in the hills above Hollywood, Los Angeles. The sign originally read “Hollywoodland,” but the last four letters were dropped after renovation in 1949.

1954 – The United States, Great Britain, and France reach an accord regarding Indochina. It divided Vietnam into two countries, North and South, along the 17th parallel, also known as the DMZ (demilitarized zone). When Donald Trump crossed the DMZ on June 30, 2019, he became the first sitting president to enter North Korea.

1976 – The trial begins in the USSR for Valery Sablin for his 1975 mutiny on the Soviet submarine the Sentry. The true story of the mutiny is made into the 1990 American movie “The Hunt for Red October” based on Tom Clancy’s 1984 book. Sablin was convicted and executed by order of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Sablin is buried in an unmarked – and unknown – grave.

1985 – The “Live Aid” concert raises over $70 million for African famine relief during a live concert from Philadelphia and London. Watch an interview with organizer Bob Geldof.

2018 – The Department of Justice charges 12 Russian intelligence officers with cyber-attacks against the Democrat campaign during 2016 U.S. election.

July 14

1798 – The Sedition Act prohibits public opposition to the government through “false, scandalous, and malicious” writing against the U.S. government in response to foreign threats.

1853 – President Franklin Pierce opens the first U.S. World’s fair at New York’s Crystal Palace. The Palace was destroyed in 1858 by a fire that started in an adjacent lumberyard.

1921 – Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Massachusetts of murdering a shoe company’s guard and paymaster during an armed robbery. Italian-born anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in the electric chair in 1927 at ages 36 and 39 respectively. After requesting a review of the case, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation on the 50th anniversary of their execution that Sacco and Vanzetti had been unfairly tried and convicted.

1934 – The New York Times erroneously declares that Babe Ruth’s 700 home run record will stand for all time. Hank Aaron breaks Ruth’s record in 1973 (755 total home runs) and Barry Bonds breaks Ruth’s record in 2006 (762 total home runs).

1952 – The first transatlantic helicopter flight begins when two U.S. Air Force Sikorsky H-19s travel from the U.S. to Wiesbaden, Germany. The total flight time was about 52 hours, but because of stops in Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, and the Netherlands the trip took 21 days.

1965 – American space probe Mariner 4 flies within 6,118 miles of Mars after an eight-month journey. This mission provided the first close-up images of the red planet. The mission launched November 28, 1964. Watch a NASA video.


1986 – Richard W. Miller becomes the first FBI agent convicted of espionage. After two trials Miller was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to 20 years, which a judge reduced to 13 years. Miller was released in 1994 and died in 2013 at age 76.

2008 – The iTunes Music Store reaches 10 million downloads. The following year the number of downloads reached 1.5 billion. As of this year, iTunes downloads totaled 25 billion, an average of 7 million per day.

2015 – Harper Lee’s second novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” written in 1957, goes on sale. The book was an earlier version of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” published in 1960. It won a Pulitzer Prize for Literature and was made into a movie in 1962. Lee died in 2016 at age 89.

July 15

1789 – The Marquis de Lafayette (Marie Joseph Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier) is named colonel-general of the new National Guard of Paris. During the Revolutionary War, Congress commissioned Lafayette a Major General in the Continental Army. He assisted George Washington in winning the war and they became life-long friends.

1830 – Indian tribes (Sioux, Sauk, and Fox) sign the fourth Treaty of Prairie du Chien giving the U.S. most of Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri. William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) represented the U.S. at the signing.

1933 – Wiley Post begins the first solo flight around world. The flight took 7 days, 18 hours. He was killed, along with his friend Will Rogers, when their plane crashed in Alaska on August 15, 1935.

1954 – The Boeing 707 becomes the first commercial jet transport plane tested in the U.S. The prototype, nicknamed “Dash 80,” served as a flying lab until it was given to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 1972. Boeing went on to build more than 14,000 jetliners. The company was started by William Boeing in 1916. Watch actual test flight footage with commentary from the test pilot.


1975 – The U.S.S.R.’s Soyuz 19 and NASA’s Apollo 18 launch and rendezvous in space two days later. It was the first space rendezvous of spacecraft from different countries.

1976 – Brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld and their friend Frederick Woods kidnap 26 school children and their bus driver Frank Ray in Chowchilla, California. They hid the bus in a quarry and demanded $5 million ransom, but the bus driver Frank Ray helped the students escape. All three kidnappers pleaded guilty and were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, which was changed to life with the possibility of parole. Richard Schoenfeld, now 65, was paroled in 2012. James, now 68, was paroled in 2015. Frederick Woods, now 69, has been repeatedly denied parole. Frank Ray died in 2012 at age 91. Watch a montage of actual footage.

2002 – “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh pleads guilty to supplying aid to the enemy and to possession of explosives during the commission of a felony and is sentenced to 20 years in prison. In May 2019, Lindh was released early from prison for good behavior with probation for the remaining time of his sentence.

2006 – The social networking service Twitter is launched. The micro-blogging service averages 330 million monthly users.

July 16

1790 – U.S. Congress establishes the District of Columbia, initially known as “The Federal City.” The nation’s capital moved from Philadelphia to Washington, DC in 1800.

1941 – Joe DiMaggio hits in his 56th straight game with the American League New York Yankees. The streak ends the next day in Cleveland, but Joe goes on to hit in the next 18 consecutive games. Willie Keeler of Baltimore holds the National League record with 45 consecutive hits during the 1896-97 season. Watch still photos as DiMaggio talks about his hitting streak.

1957 – Marine Major John Glenn sets the transcontinental speed record in an F8U-1P Crusader. Glenn set another record when he becomes the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962 in Friendship 7 and the oldest person in space in 1998 at age 77 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Glenn died in 2016 at the age of 95.

1969 – Apollo 11 launches from Kennedy Space Center carrying Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin on the successful mission to land on the moon.

1988 – Florence Griffith Joyner sets the 100-meter women’s world record at 10.49 seconds during the Olympic time trials in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is considered the fastest woman of all time because her record for the 100-meter and 200-meter has never been beat. Flo-Jo died in her sleep in 1998 at age 38 from an epileptic seizure. Watch the fastest woman ever.

1999 – John F. Kennedy, Jr. (piloting a Piper Saratoga), his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and sister-in-law Lauren Bessette are killed in a plane crash off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

2015 – A 24-year-old Kuwaiti-born Muslim terrorist shoots and kills 5 American soldiers at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, naval reserve training center. The soldiers returned fire to help others escape. The terrorist was shot to death by police. His father was on the terrorist watch list.

July 17

1775 – The first U.S. military hospital (medical department) is approved in Massachusetts with a Director-General (chief physician of the Hospital), four surgeons, an apothecary (pharmacist), and nurses (usually wives or widows of military personnel). The pay for the surgeons and the pharmacist was $1.66 a day and nurses $2 a month.

1938 – Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan leaves New York for Los Angeles in his modified Curtiss Robin and ends up in Ireland. He was denied permission to fly across the Atlantic and claimed his trans-Atlantic flight was due to a navigation error. The New York Post printed its headline backwards. Watch a 50th anniversary news report with Corrigan.

1955 – Disneyland opens in Anaheim, California. The Magic Kingdom covers 160 acres and cost $17 million to build. Watch Walt Disney’s brief opening speech.


1955 – Arco, Idaho, becomes the first U.S. city lit by nuclear power. The Experimental Breeder Reactor Number 1 near Arco becomes the first reactor in the U.S. when it went online in 1951.

1975 – An Apollo spacecraft docks with a Soyuz spacecraft in orbit. It was the first link up between the U.S. and Soviet Union in space.

1997 – After 117 years in business, the Woolworth Corp. closes the last of its 400 stores. The first store opened on 1879 as Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store in Utica, New York. It soon failed and the second store opened in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, after founder Frank Woolworth brought in his brother Charles.

July 18

1768 – Boston Gazette publishes “Liberty Song,” America’s first patriotic song.

1947 – President Harry Truman signs the Presidential Succession Act. The line of succession after the Vice President is Speaker of the House, President Pro Tem of the Senate, Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Defense, the Attorney General, Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, HHS, HUD, Transportation, Energy, Education, VA, and Homeland Security (as long as they are constitutionally eligible).

1969 – Mary Jo Kopechne dies when Senator Edward Kennedy drives his car off the Chappaquiddick Bridge. Kopechne, age 28, drowned in the car. Two fishermen found the submerged car in the morning after Kennedy failed to report the accident. Kennedy, then age 37, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended sentence.

1986 – Videotapes are released showing Titanic’s sunken remains. Marine geologist Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic wreckage 350 miles southeast of Newfoundland, 13,000 feet down on the ocean floor. Watch a video of a 2004 dive on the wreckage.

2015 – PayPal, an online payment system, is spun off from eBay as a separate publicly traded company on the NASDAQ.

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