This Week in History: March 11-17, 2019


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 March 11-17, 2019

March 11

1789 – Benjamin Banneker, the son of a freed slave, and Pierre L’Enfant, who came from France to fight in the Revolutionary War, begin laying out the plans for Washington, DC.

1823 – Concord Academy of Concord, Vermont, opens as the first normal school (training school for teachers) in the U.S. It was founded by Samuel Read Hall. It is now a college-prep high school.

1841 – The first continuous filibuster in the U.S. Senate ends. It began on February 18th. It started over Senator Henry Clay’s bill to charter the Second Bank of the United States. The word “filibuster” is derived from the French word meaning “pirate.”

1918 – The first confirmed cases of the Spanish Flu are observed at Fort Riley, Kansas, starting the 3-year global flu pandemic that killed 3 to 5 percent of the world’s population.

1953 – An American B-47 aircraft accidentally drops a nuclear bomb on Mars Bluff, South Carolina. The bomb didn’t detonate, but the hole it made is still visible.

1958 – Herb Stempel finally loses on the TV game show “Twenty-One.” It was later revealed that the show’s producers provided competitor Charles Van Doren with the correct answer and told his Herb Stempel to give the wrong answer, resulting in one of the biggest game show scandals. Watch the full episode:

1982 – Senator Harrison Williams (D-NJ) resigns rather than face expulsion following his 1981 conviction for taking bribes in the ABSCAM sting.

1986 – The National Football League adopts the instant replay rule. The first instant replay in baseball was used in 2008. Instant replay became official in major league baseball in 2014.

1997 – The ashes of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry are launched into space on the Voyager Memorial Spaceflight Service arranged by the Houston-based firm Celestis, Inc. The ashes of his wife were also launched into space after her 2012 death.

2002 – Two columns of light are pointed skyward from ground zero in New York as a temporary memorial to the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

March 12

1664 – The first naturalization act is passed in American colonies. The first Oaths of Allegiance were also taken.

1789 – The U.S. Post Office is established. Ben Franklin was the first Postmaster General.

1912 – Juliette Gordon Low forms the Girl Scouts in Savannah, Georgia. There are about 2.5 million Girl Scouts.

1933 – FDR conducts his first “fireside chat” on the radio. Listen to the chat:

1980 – A jury finds John Wayne Gacy guilty of murdering 33 men and boys in Chicago. Gacy was executed by lethal injection in 1994 at age 52.

1986 – Susan Butcher wins the first of her four 1,158-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Races (1986, 1987, 1988, and 1990). She ran the race 18 times. Butcher died of leukemia in 2006 at age 51. Only Rick Swenson has won more Iditarod races (5). The first Iditarod race was run in 1973. It recreated the dog-sled relay that transported the antitoxin serum to treat a diphtheria epidemic in Nome, Alaska, in January of 1925. Twenty mushers, using 150 dogs, covered 674 miles in 5 ½ days in brutal winter conditions. Watch a brief bio of Butcher:

1989 – About 2,500 veterans and supporters march at the Art Institute of Chicago to demand that officials remove an American flag placed on the floor as part of an exhibit. The exhibit was closed for only a short period of time then reopened.

2003 – Elizabeth Smart is found after having been missing for 9 months. She was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, by Brian David Mitchell. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2011. Smart is now 31 years old.

2003 – The U.S. Air Force announces that it will resume reconnaissance flights off the coast of North Korea. The flights stopped on March 2 after an encounter with four armed North Korean jets.

March 13

1868 – The Senate begins President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial. The Senate failed by one vote to impeach Johnson.

1901 – Andrew Carnegie announces that he is retiring from business and that he will spend the rest of his life giving away his fortune. His net worth was estimated at $300 million.

1925 – Tennessee passes the “Butler Act,” making it unlawful to teach evolution. High school teacher John Scopes was tried in July for violating that act. He was found guilty and fined $100, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. It was later revealed that town leaders convinced Scoped to plead guilty for the publicity after the ACLU offered to defend anyone accused of teaching evolution.

1963 – Ernesto Miranda is arrested in Phoenix, Arizona, and interrogated by police until he signs a confession. The Supreme Court ruled in 1966 that Miranda had not been informed of his legal rights and his conviction for kidnapping and rape was overturned. Miranda was stabbed to death in a bar fight in 1976. He was 34 years old.

1974 – The U.S. Senate votes 54-33 to restore the death penalty.

1991 – Exxon pays $1 billion in fines and for the cleanup of the Valdez oil spill.

1997 – The unidentified flying objects called the “Phoenix Lights” are seen over Phoenix, Arizona, by hundreds of people and by millions on television. They continue to be a hotly debated controversy. Watch this amateur video (no sound):

2012 – After 244 years of publication, Encyclopedia Britannica announced it is discontinuing its U.S. print edition.

March 14

1812 – Congress authorizes the sale of war bonds to finance the War of 1812.

1900 – U.S. currency goes on the gold standard. Since 1971, the U.S. dollar has been called fiat currency, meaning it is not backed by a physical commodity (gold), and is only worth the paper it is printed on.

1923 – President Warren G. Harding becomes the first President to file an income tax report and pay taxes.

1958 – The Recording Industry Association of American is created. Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star” is certified as its first gold record. Watch Como perform his hit song in England:

1967 – President JFK’s body is moved from a temporary grave to a permanent memorial at Arlington National Ceremony.

1967 – In the first NFL-AFL football common draft, the Baltimore Colts pick defensive lineman Bubba Smith.

1989 – Imported “assault” guns are banned in the U.S. under President George H.W. Bush’s administration.

1997 – President Bill Clinton trips at 1:20 AM while on a fund-raising trip to Florida. The injury required knee surgery.

March 15

1869 – The Cincinnati Red Stockings become the first professional baseball team.

1875 – John McCloskey of New York City is selected as the first U.S. cardinal of the Catholic Church.

1892 – The first escalator is patented by inventor Jesse W. Reno. It was introduced as an amusement park ride at New York’s Coney Island in 1896.

1892 – The first lever voting machine, the “Myers Automatic Booth,” debuts in Lockport, New York. A lever was assigned to each candidate and the voter pulled the lever to vote for the corresponding candidate.

1912 – Future Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Cy Young retires from baseball with 511 wins. The award bearing his name has been given annually to the best pitcher starting in 1956, the year after Young’s death.

1916 – General Pershing and 15,000 troops, on orders from President Wilson, chase Pancho Villa into Mexico after Villa repeatedly attacked American interests in New Mexico. Villa was never captured but was assassinated in Mexico in 1923.

1945 – Billboard publishes its first top album chart with “The King Cole Trio” as its first #1 album. The album included “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” Listen to the original song with still photos:

1945 – Bert Shepard, a WWII veteran with an artificial leg, tries out as a pitcher for Washington Senators. He pitched in one game on August 4th. Shepard died in 2008 at age 87.

1954 – “CBS Morning Show” premieres with Jack Paar and Walter Cronkite. Paar died in 2004 at age 85 and Cronkite died in 2009 at age 92.

1968 – LIFE magazine calls Jimi Hendrix the “most spectacular guitarist in the world.” Hendrix died in 1970 at age 27. Watch left-handed Hendrix perform “Purple Haze”:

1977 – The U.S. House of Representatives begins a 90-day test of televising its sessions.

1985 – The first Internet domain name,, is registered.

1989 – The Department of Veterans Affairs is officially established as a Cabinet position.

2002 – Burger King begins selling a veggie burger in the U.S. The event was billed as the first veggie burger to be sold nationally by a fast food chain.

March 16

1641 – The general court declares Rhode Island a democracy and it adopts a new constitution.

1802 – Thomas Jefferson signs legislation establishing the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

1881 – The P. T. Barnum and James A. Bailey Circuses merge and debuts as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Bailey bought Barnum’s shares after his death in 1890 and the five Ringling brothers bought the circus after Bailey’s death in 1906 creating the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. The circus closed in 2017.

1912 – First Lady Helen Herron Taft plants the first cherry trees in Washington, DC. The first Cherry Blossom Festival was held in 1935.

1926 – Rocket scientist Robert Goddard launches the first liquid fuel rocket. It went up 184 feet.

1968 – Robert Kennedy announces his presidential campaign. Kennedy was assassinated on June 6th in Los Angeles when he was 42 years old. His older brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated 5 years earlier. Listen to Robert’s announcement:

1974 – The first performance at the new Grand Ole Opry House is held at Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee. President Nixon and his wife Pat were the first presidential couple to attend the Opry. Nixon is still the only president to perform at the Opry when he played “God Bless America” on the piano. He also played “Happy Birthday” to First Lady Pat Nixon. Watch Nixon play (starts at 1:50):

1988 – A federal grand jury indicts Oliver North and John Poindexter in the Iran-Contra affair. North is convicted of accepting an illegal gratuity, obstructing a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents, but the ruling is overturned since he had been granted immunity. Poindexter was convicted in 1990 of five counts of lying to Congress and obstructing the investigation, but his conviction was overturned on appeal in 1991.

1994 – Figure skater Tonya Harding pleads guilty to the January felony attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan. Kerrigan won the silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics. Harding was fined, got probation, and received a lifetime ban on U.S. skating competitions.

1995 – The Mississippi House of Representatives finally ratifies the 13th Amendment, formally abolishing slavery. Mississippi originally rejected the amendment in 1865, the year it was passed by Congress.

2012 – George Clooney, his father, and other several prominent participants, including Martin Luther King III, are arrested during a protest outside the Sudanese Embassy for civil disobedience. Watch the protest and arrests:

March 17

1894 The U.S. and China sign a treaty preventing Chinese laborers from entering the U.S.

1912 – Mrs. Luther Halsey Gulick announces the organization of Camp Fire Girls. Now co-ed, it was founded as a sister organization to the Boy Scouts.

1927 – The U.S. government does not sign the League of Nations disarmament treaty after World War I.

1941 – The National Gallery of Art is officially opened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, DC.

1958 – The Navy launches Vanguard 1 into orbit to measure the Earth’s shape. The first successful U.S. rocket launch was the Jupiter C on January 31, 1958.

1970 – The U.S. casts its first UN Security Council veto. The U.S. cast the lone veto regarding the Rhodesian crisis in order to prevent another resolution relating to Israel.

1973 – The first American prisoners of war (POWs) are released from the “Hanoi Hilton” in Hanoi, North Vietnam.

2008 – New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer resigns after a scandal involving a high-end prostitute. David Paterson became the acting New York State governor. Spitzer lost his bid for mayor of New York City in 2013. Watch his resignation speech:


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