This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history
is the most important of all the lessons of history.” Aldous Huxley
Week of March 16-22, 2020
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. He is considered the father of the Space Age for his work as a theorist and engineer.
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:
1894 – The U.S. and China sign a treaty preventing Chinese laborers from entering the U.S. for 10 years. Chinese immigration started with the California Gold Rush of 1848-1855 and continued with the building of the Transcontinental Railroad of 1863-1869.
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. Member nations were Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan. Although President Wilson was the main founder, the U.S. never joined the League of Nations.
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:
1818 – Congress approves the first pensions for government service workers.
1834 – The first railroad tunnel in the U.S. is completed in Pennsylvania. The Staple Bend Tunnel is 900 feet long. Now part of the National Park Service, the tunnel is open to the public as a walking trail.
1850 – Henry Wells and William Fargo form American Express in Buffalo, New York.
1882 – Morgan Earp is assassinated in Tombstone, Arizona, two months after the gunfight at the OK Corral. Morgan, Wyatt Earp’s brother, was killed by outlaws after he played billiards.
1931 – The first electric shavers go on sale in the U.S. They were made by Schick. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Schick invented a new type of safety razor in 1921 and continued to improve on his original invention. Schick died in 1937 at age 59.
1942 – The third military draft in the U.S. begins during World War II. Just over 10 million men were drafted.
1977 – Vietnam hands over 22 sets of MIA remains to the U.S., while 1,592 Americans are still listed as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War.
1990 – Two thieves dressed as police officers tie up guards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and steal 13 pieces of art valued at $500 million. It was the largest art heist in U.S. history. Although the museum offered a $5 million reward and the FBI followed many leads the art has never recovered and the thieves have not been caught. Watch a report on the investigation:
1995 – Basketball great Michael Jordan announces he is ending his 18-month NBA retirement. He played the 1995-1998 seasons and retired again. Jordan made another comeback 2001-2003 and retired for the 3rd and final time. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. Jordan is now 57 years old. Watch interviews and highlights:
2014 – The U.S. closes the Syrian embassy in Washington and expels all Syrian diplomats.
1831 – The City Bank of New York is the first U.S. bank to be robbed. Thieves make off with $245,000, valued at over $7 million in today’s money.
1918 – Congress authorizes the use of time zones and approves daylight saving time to save energy during World War I.
1920 – The U.S. Senate rejects the Treaty of Versailles for the second time by refusing to ratify League of Nations’ covenant (maintaining its isolation policy).
1949 – The first museum devoted exclusively to atomic energy opens in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The American Museum of Science and Energy is still open.
1953 – The 25th Academy Awards is the first Oscar ceremony to be televised. Cecil B. DeMille’s “Greatest Show on Earth” beats out Stanley Kramer’s “High Noon” for best picture. Watch the award announcement and presentation for best picture:
1975 – Pennsylvania becomes the first state to allow girls to compete with boys in high school sports. Title IX, passed in 1972, prohibits discrimination in any educational activity or program on the basis of sex.
1979 – C-SPAN (an acronym for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, a private, nonprofit American cable television network) is launched.
2009 – President Obama compares his bowling to Special Olympics on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. Watch Obama without a teleprompter:
2013 – NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity discovers further evidence of water-bearing minerals. Curiosity has covered about 12.5 miles on the surface of Mars.
1816 – The U.S. Supreme Court affirms its right to review state court decisions in Martin v Hunter’s lessee involving a land dispute.
1897 – In the first recorded intercollegiate basketball game, Yale beats the University of Pennsylvania 32-10.
1922 – USS Langley is commissioned. It was the Navy’s first aircraft carrier. It went through several conversions and in 1942 she was attacked by Japanese bombers. It was badly damaged during the attack and scuttled.
1952 – The U.S. Senate ratifies the peace treaty with Japan. The treaty went into effect in April of 1952.
1976 – Patricia Hearst is convicted of the armed robbery she committed while being held captive after being held captive by the SLA. Hearst is now 66 years old. Watch the actual bank footage of the robbery:
1984 – The U.S. Senate rejects an amendment to permit spoken prayer in public schools.
1985 – American Libby Riddles is the first woman to win the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race. Riddles is now 62 years old. Watch an ABC report after her win:
1991 The Supreme Court rules unanimously that employers can’t exclude women from jobs where exposure to toxic chemicals could potentially damage a fetus.
1999 – Legoland California, the first and only Legoland outside of Europe, opens in Carlsbad, California.
2012 – The Disney movie “John Carter” records the largest loss in cinema history with a $200 million dollar write down.
1843 – Preacher William Miller of Massachusetts predicts the world will end on this day. He was an early pioneer of the Seventh Day Adventist movement.
1891 – A member of the Hatfield family marries a McCoy, ending the long and bloody feud in West Virginia that started with an accusation of pig stealing and lasted over 20 years. Descendants of the Hatfield and McCoy families appeared on the TV game show Family Feud in 1979.
1934 – Female track and field Olympian and future golf legend Babe Didrikson pitches an inning in an A’s-Dodgers exhibition game. The Associated Press declared Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias to be the “Woman Athlete of the Half Century” in 1950. Zaharias died in 1956 at the age of 45. Watch a video bio of her amazing athletic life:
1947 – President Truman signs Executive Order 9835 requiring all federal employees to have allegiance to the U.S.
1965 – Martin Luther King, Jr. begins the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, a distance of about 50 miles. They arrived on March 25th.
1980 – President Jimmy Carter announces the U.S. will boycott the Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
1980 – J.R. Ewing is shot on the TV show Dallas, sparking the summer-long question, “Who shot JR?” Spoiler alert – It was revealed in the season premiere on November 21st that J.R.’s sister-in-law Kristin Shepard was the one “Who done it” in the highest rated TV show episode at the time. Watch the most-talked-about TV season finale:
1989 – The first sea test of Trident 2 missile self-destructs over Cape Canaveral. The missile cost $23.7 million.
2016 – President Obama has a joint press conference with Cuban dictator Raul Castro. It ended with an awkward attempt at a hug:
1622 – In the first Indian (Powhatan) massacre of whites in Jamestown Virginia, 347 pilgrims are slain.
1765 – The Stamp Act is passed. It was the first direct British tax on colonists and it taxed all printed materials, including documents, newspapers, and playing cards. Following months of protests and riots in the Colonies, the Stamp Act was repealed one year later.
1790 – Thomas Jefferson becomes the first U.S. Secretary of State during President Washington’s administration.
1794 – Congress bans U.S. vessels from supplying slaves to other countries.
1871 – William Holden of North Carolina is the first governor removed from office by impeachment. Holden was charged and convicted of declaring martial law, unlawfully raising troops, illegally declaring counties to be in a state of insurrection, illegally arresting citizens, seizing, detaining, imprisoning, and depriving those citizens of their liberty and privileges as freemen, and refusing to obey a writ of habeas corpus.
1882 – The Edmunds Act is adopted by the U.S. to suppress polygamy. About 1,300 men, mostly Mormons, were later imprisoned under the act. The Latter-Day Saints Church discontinued the practice of plural marriage in their1890 Manifesto.
1946 – The WAC rocket, the first U.S. rocket to leave the Earth’s atmosphere, travels 50 miles up. Early rockets were named for enlisted ranks in the Army. WAC stands for Women’s Army Corps.
1972 – The Senate passes the Equal Rights Amendment, but it is not ratified by the states.
1980 – People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is founded by British-born Ingrid Newkirk and American-born Alex Pacheco. Watch Newkirk discuss why she thinks there is no “humane meat”:
2006 – British forces in Baghdad rescue 3 Christian Peacemaker Teams hostages after 118 days captivity. Their colleague, American Tom Fox, was found dead with gunshots in his head and chest.
Image from: aps.org