This Week in History: Sept 14-20, 2020

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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

Sept 14-20, 2020




September 14

1752 – Britain and the American colonies adopt the Gregorian calendar. There is no September 3 – September 13.

1807 – Former Vice President Aaron Burr is acquitted of treason and misdemeanor charges for trying to “raise and levy war” against the United States. Burr was also acquitted of murdering Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel.

1814 – Francis Scott Key is inspired to write the poem “Defense of Fort McHenry” while he is a prisoner on board a ship near Fort McHenry outside Baltimore, Maryland. The poem was renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and put to music written by English composer John Stafford Smith. The song became our national anthem in 1931. That original flag, now restored, is on display of the Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

1872 – Britain pays the U.S. $15 ½ million for damages done to Union ships during the Civil War by ships built by the British for the Confederacy.

1899 – Henry Bliss becomes the first automobile fatality in the U.S. He was struck and killed by a taxi when he stepped off a streetcar in New York City. Manslaughter charges against the taxi driver were dropped.

1940 – Congress passes the Selective Service Act, providing the first peacetime military draft in the U.S.

1948 – The groundbreaking ceremony for the United Nations world headquarters building is held in New York City. The building was completed in 1952. Representatives from 50 member countries signed the U.N. Charter in June of 1945.

1964 – Walt Disney is awarded the Medal of Freedom at the White House by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

1975 – Pope Paul VI canonizes Mother Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton as the first U.S.-born saint. She was the founder of the first American group of religious nuns, the Sisters of Charity.

1983 – The House of Representatives votes 416 to 0 in favor of a resolution condemning Russia for shooting down Korean jetliner flight 007 on September 1st.

1984 – Bette Midler and Dan Aykroyd host the first MTV awards (now called the VMAs) at Radio City Music Hall. Michael Jackson took home 3 awards for “Thriller.” Watch the show’s opening.



1999 – Disney World closes down for the first time in its 28-year history. The closure was due to Hurricane Floyd heading for Florida.

2001 – An historic National Prayer Service is held at the Washington National Cathedral for victims of the September 11 attacks.

2015 – Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old Texas student, is arrested at school when his home-made clock is thought to be a bomb. It turned out to be a hoax. Mark Zuckerberg and President Barack Obama sent out tweets supporting the student. The Mohamed family moved to Qatar a month later.


September 15

1620 – The Mayflower departs Plymouth, England, with 102 pilgrims on board. They arrived at Plymouth Rock on December 21st.

1789 – The Department of Foreign Affairs is renamed the Department of State.

1949 – “The Lone Ranger” premieres on TV and airs until 1957. The theme song is “March of the Swiss Soldiers,” Gioachino Rossini’s finale of the William Tell Overture. Watch the intro.



1966 – President Lyndon B. Johnson, responding to a sniper attack at the University of Texas at Austin, writes a letter to Congress urging the enactment of gun control legislation.

1982 – The Gannett Company publishes the first issue of the USA Today newspaper.

1998 – Google.com is registered as a domain name.

2008 – Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. filed for Chapter 11 protection with $691 billion in assets. It was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.


September 16

1782 – The Great Seal of United States is used for first time. In June 1782 Congress commissioned Charles Thomson to create the final design after three different committees failed to agree on a design.

1863 – American philanthropist Christopher Robert becomes the founder of Robert College of Istanbul-Turkey, the first American educational institution outside the U.S.

1908 – Carriage-maker William Durant becomes the founder of General Motors with $2,000 of his own money.

1940 – Samuel T. Rayburn of Texas is elected Speaker of House of Representatives, where he serves until his death in 1961. The Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, completed in 1965, is named for him.

1968 – Presidential candidate Richard Nixon appears on the “Laugh-in” TV show. Watch the 6-second video.



1974 – President Gerald Ford announces conditional amnesty for U.S. Vietnam War deserters.

1994 – Exxon Corporation is ordered by a federal jury to pay $5 billion in punitive damages to the people harmed by the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.

1998 – Universal pays $9 million for the rights to the Dr. Seuss classics “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” The Grinch movie opened in November 2000 and was directed by Ron Howard.

2008 – The failure of numerous U.S. financial institutions is a result of the subprime loans and credit defaults and leads to the “Panic of 2008.”


September 17

1778 – The first treaty between the United States and an Indian tribe is signed at Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania, with the Lenape Indians.

1787 – The U.S. constitution is adopted by the Philadelphia Convention. The Constitution was ratified in June 1788 and became effective May 1789.

1849 – Harriet Tubman escapes slavery in Maryland with two of her brothers. Over a ten-year time span Tubman makes 19 trips to the South and escorts over 300 slaves to freedom.

1908 – Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge becomes the first person to die in a plane crash. He was a passenger on a flight with Orville Wright.

1911 – Pilot Calbraith Perry Rodgers completes the first transcontinental airplane flight from New York to California is in 82 hours and 4 minutes. He was killed in a plane crash the following April at age 33.

1920 – The National Football League organizes in Canton, Ohio. Twelve teams pay $100 each to join American Professional Football Association. The NFL Hall of Fame opens in Canton in 1963.

1934 – RCA Victor releases the first 33 1/3 rpm recording. It was Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

1947 – The U.S. Department of Defense is formed, with James Forrestal as the first Secretary of Defense. Mark Esper is the current Defense Secretary.

1983 – Twenty-year-old Vanessa Williams (Miss New York), crowned the 56th Miss America, is the first black Miss America. In July 1984 nude photos taken of Williams in her freshman year of college are published in Penthouse Magazine. She is asked to resign and is allowed to keep her crown, title, and scholarship money but loses millions of dollars in endorsements. Williams, now 57, has a successful music, TV, and movie career. Watch the crowning.



1997 – Dr. Sam Sheppard’s body is exhumed for DNA test, which proves he did not murder his pregnant wife in 1954. Sheppard served 10 years of a life sentence and is freed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the conviction citing the “carnival atmosphere” of the trial. Sheppard was acquitted in a 1966 retrial. The case was the basis for the TV show “The Fugitive.” Sheppard died in 1970 at age 46.

2007 – AOL, once the largest Internet service provider in the U.S., officially announces plans to refocus the company as an advertising business and to relocate its corporate headquarters from Dulles, Virginia, to New York City, New York. Now, AOL doesn’t even crack the top 20 ISP list.

2011 – The Occupy Wall Street movement begins in Zuccotti Park, New York City. The idea was proposed by Adbusters, a Canadian group. Watch young people try to explain what they are doing.



2015 – The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the 2015 Northern Hemisphere summer was the hottest on record (based on only 150 years of records).


September 18

1793 – President George Washington lays the cornerstone of the Capitol building. It wasn’t completed until 1826 because of construction issues and the War of 1812.

1850 – Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Acts as part of the Compromise of 1850. It allowed for the capture and return of escaped slaves. Congress repealed the laws in 1864.

1891 – Harriet Maxwell Converse is the first white woman to become an Indian chief and is given responsibility of the welfare of the Seneca Nation. She was given the name “Gaiiwanoh” meaning “The Watcher.”

1932 – Actress Peg Entwistle commits suicide by jumping from the letter “H” in the Hollywoodland sign in California. She was 24 years old. The letters “land” were removed during renovations in 1949.

1947 – The United States Air Force becomes a separate branch of the military.

1955 – The “Ed Sullivan Show” premiers on TV and airs until 1971. The show had been called “The Toast of the Town” since 1948. Watch Bo Diddley from one of Ed’s earliest shows.


2001 – The first in a series of anthrax letters is mailed from Trenton, New Jersey, in the anthrax attacks. Five people died and 17 others were infected from anthrax exposure.


September 19

1778 – The Continental Congress passes the first budget of the U.S.

1928 – Mickey Mouse makes his screen debut as Steamboat Willie at New York City’s Colony Theater. Watch the primitive animated movie.



1934 – Bruno Hauptmann is arrested for the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. The body of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s baby was found two months after the kidnapping. Hauptmann was convicted and then executed in 1936.

1947 – Jackie Robinson is named baseball’s “Rookie of Year.” In 1949, he was named the most valuable player (MVP). Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Robinson died in 1972 at age 53.

1959 – Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev is denied access to Disneyland during his visit to the U.S. Watch Walt Disney describe what the tour would have included.



1961 – Betty and Barney Hill claim they saw a mysterious craft in the sky and that the UFO abducted them. The Hills were interviewed extensively by the Air Force and the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena. They were also hypnotized by Boston psychiatrist Benjamin Simon, who concluded their case was a singular psychological aberration.

1982 – Scott Fahlman is the first person to use the sideways smiley face 🙂 in an online message.

1988 – U.S. Olympic diver Greg Louganis cuts his head on diving board at the Seoul Summer Olympics, causing a concussion. Louganis did not reveal at the time that he was HIV positive. Louganis is now 60 years old. Watch the accident.



1995 – The Senate passes the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act welfare overhaul bill. President Clinton signed the bill in 1996 fulfilling his 1992 campaign promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it.”

2017 – President Trump, in a speech at the United Nations, vows to “Totally destroy North Korea” if they threaten the U.S. The same day, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in his speech criticized comments Trump also made about Iran.


September 20

1797 – The U.S. frigate Constitution (Old Ironsides) is launched in Boston.

1814 – “The Star Spangled Banner” is published as a song. Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics and John Stafford Smith wrote the tune.

1884 – The Equal Rights Party is the first political party to nominate female candidates for both President (Belva Ann Lockwood) and Vice President (Marieta Stow). Belva Ann Lockwood, a lawyer, was also the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court.

1924 – Carl Mays becomes the first pitcher to win 20 games in each season for 3 different teams. He also holds the dubious distinction of being the only player to cause the death of another player. In 1920, Mays hit batter Ray Chapman in the head with a pitch and Chapman died the next day.

1973 – Billie Jean King (age 29) beats Bobby Riggs (age 55) in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match. King is now 76 years old. Riggs died in 1995 at age 77. Watch a report about the match.



2001 – President George W. Bush declares a “war on terror” in an address to a joint session of Congress and the American people.

2011 – The U.S. ends its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the military for the first time. The policy was initiated by the Clinton Administration in 1994.

2013 – “Grand Theft Auto V” becomes the entertainment product to reach $1 billion in sales the fastest. (3 days)



Image from: democracynow.org

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