This Day in History

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This Day in History - HISTORY
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Molasses floods Boston streets

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 6:59am

Fiery hot molasses floods the streets of Boston on this day in 1919, killing 21 people and injuring scores of others. The molasses burst from a huge tank at the United States Industrial Alcohol Company building in the heart of the city.

The United States Industrial Alcohol building was located on Commercial Street near North End Park in Boston. It was close to lunch time on January 15 and Boston was experiencing some unseasonably warm weather as workers were loading freight-train cars within the large building. Next to the workers was a 58-foot-high tank filled with 2.5 million gallons of crude molasses.

Suddenly, the bolts holding the bottom of the tank exploded, shooting out like bullets, and the hot molasses rushed out. An eight-foot-high wave of molasses swept away the freight cars and caved in the building’s doors and windows. The few workers in the building’s cellar had no chance as the liquid poured down and overwhelmed them.

The huge quantity of molasses then flowed into the street outside. It literally knocked over the local firehouse and then pushed over the support beams for the elevated train line. The hot and sticky substance then drowned and burned five workers at the Public Works Department. In all, 21 people and dozens of horses were killed in the flood. It took weeks to clean the molasses from the streets of Boston.

This disaster also produced an epic court battle, as more than 100 lawsuits were filed against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company. After a six-investigation that involved 3,000 witnesses and 45,000 pages of testimony, a special auditor finally determined that the company was at fault because the tank used had not been strong enough to hold the molasses. Nearly $1 million was paid in settlement of the claims.

Packers beat Chiefs in first Super Bowl

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 6:58am

On January 15, 1967, the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL) smash the American Football League (AFL)’s Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10, in the first-ever AFL-NFL World Championship, later known as Super Bowl I, at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Founded in 1960 as a rival to the NFL, the AFL was still finding its way in 1967, and the Packers had been heavily favored to win the game. As 60 million people tuned in to watch the action unfold on television, the Chiefs managed to keep it close for the first half, and by halftime Green Bay was ahead just 14-10. The Chiefs’ only touchdown came in the second quarter, on a seven-yard pass from quarterback Len Dawson to Curtis McClinton.

The Packers, however, proceeded to break the game wide open, after safety Willie Wood intercepted a Dawson pass and returned the ball 50 yards to set up a touchdown. Green Bay scored three more times in the second half, as Elijah Pitts ran in two touchdowns and backup end Max McGee–who came on the field after the starter Boyd Dowler was injured on the sixth play of the game–caught his second touchdown pass of the day. Prior to the game, McGee had made only four receptions all season; he made seven that night, for a total of 138 yards.

The Packers’ famed quarterback, Bryan Bartlett “Bart” Starr, completed 16 of 23 passes on the night. The score at game’s end stood at 35-10, and Starr was named Most Valuable Player. Asked to comment on the match-up after the game, Green Bay Coach Vince Lombardi expressed the common opinion that even the best of the AFL–the Chiefs–“doesn’t compare with the top NFL teams.”

Two years later, the AFL proved itself to doubters by winning its first championship, when Joe Namath led the New York Jets to an upset 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. In 1970, the AFL and NFL merged into one league, as the Colts, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to join the 10 AFL teams to form American Football Conference (AFC). Since then, the Super Bowl has been the annual meeting of the top teams in the AFC and the National Football Conference (NFC) for the championship of the NFL.

Martin Luther King Jr. born

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 6:56am

On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. is born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a Baptist minister. King received a doctorate degree in theology and in 1955 helped organized the first major protest of the African-American civil rights movement: the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. Influenced by Mohandas Gandhi, he advocated civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to segregation in the South. The peaceful protests he led throughout the American South were often met with violence, but King and his followers persisted, and the movement gained momentum.

A powerful orator, King appealed to Christian and American ideals and won growing support from the federal government and Northern whites. In 1963, Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph led the massive March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; the event’s grand finale was King’s famous “I Have a Dream” address. Two hundred and fifty thousand people gathered outside the Lincoln Memorial to hear the stirring speech. In 1964, the civil rights movement achieved two of its greatest successes: the ratification of the 24th Amendment, which abolished the poll tax, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education and outlawed racial segregation in public facilities. Later that year, King became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In the late 1960s, King openly criticized U.S. involvement in Vietnam and turned his efforts to winning economic rights for poor Americans. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

Benedict Arnold, American traitor, born

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 8:47am

Benedict Arnold, the American general during the Revolutionary War who betrayed his country and became synonymous with the word “traitor,” was born on this day in 1741.

Arnold, who was raised in a respected family in Norwich, Connecticut, apprenticed with an apothecary and was a member of the militia during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). He later became a successful trader and joined the Continental Army when the Revolutionary War broke out between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies in 1775.

During the war, Arnold proved himself to be a brave, skilled leader, helping Ethan Allen’s troops capture Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and then taking part in the unsuccessful attack on British Quebec later that year, which earned him a promotion to brigadier general. Arnold distinguished himself in campaigns at Lake Champlain, Ridgefield and Saratoga, and gained the support of George Washington. However, Arnold had enemies within the military and in 1777, a group of lower-ranking men were promoted ahead of him. Over the next several years, Arnold married a second time and he and his wife led a lavish lifestyle in Philadelphia, racking up substantial debt. Money problems and the resentment Arnold felt over not being promoted faster were factors in his decision to become a turncoat.

In 1780, Arnold was given command of West Point, the American fort on the Hudson River in New York (and future home of the United States Military Academy, established in 1802). Arnold contacted Sir Henry Clinton, head of the British forces, and proposed handing over West Point and its men. On September 21 of that year, Arnold met with British Major John Andre and made his traitorous pact, in which the American was to receive a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. However, the conspiracy was uncovered and Andre was captured and killed. Arnold fled to the enemy side and went on to lead British troops in Virginia and Connecticut. He later moved to England, though he never received all of what he’d been promised by the British. The former American hero and patriot died in London, in relative obscurity, on June 14, 1801.

Adams, Jefferson and Madison help to ratify the Treaty of Paris

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 8:46am

On this day in 1784, at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, the Continental Congress ratifies the Treaty of Paris. The document, negotiated in part by future President John Adams, contained terms for ending the Revolutionary War and established the United States as a sovereign nation. The treaty outlined America’s fishing rights off the coast of Canada, defined territorial boundaries in North America formerly held by the British and forced an end to reprisals against British loyalists. Two other future presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, were among the delegates who ratified the document on January 14, 1874.

Thomas Jefferson had planned to travel to Paris to join Adams, John Jay and Benjamin Franklin for the beginning of talks with the British in 1782. However, after a delay in his travel plans, Jefferson received word that a cessation of hostilities had been announced by King George III the previous December. Jefferson arrived in Paris in late February after the treaty had already been negotiated by Adams, Franklin and Jay.

Adams’ experience and skill in diplomacy prompted Congress to authorize him to act as the United States’ representative in negotiating treaty terms with the British. Following his role in ending the Revolutionary War and his participation in drafting the Declaration of Independence, Adams succeeded George Washington as the second president of the United States in 1797.

Roosevelt ushers in Japanese-American internment

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 8:45am

On this day in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues Presidential Proclamation No. 2537, requiring aliens from World War II-enemy countries–Italy, Germany and Japan–to register with the United States Department of Justice. Registered persons were then issued a Certificate of Identification for Aliens of Enemy Nationality. A follow-up to the Alien Registration Act of 1940, Proclamation No. 2537 facilitated the beginning of full-scale internment of Japanese Americans the following month.

While most Americans expected the U.S. to enter the war, presumably in Europe or the Philippines, the nation was shocked to hear of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In the wake of the bombing, the West Coast appeared particularly vulnerable to another Japanese military offensive. A large population of Japanese Americans inhabited the western states and American military analysts feared some would conduct acts of sabotage on west-coast defense and agricultural industries.

Official relations between the governments of Japan and the United States had soured in the 1930s when Japan began its military conquest of Chinese territory. China, weakened by a civil war between nationalists and communists, represented an important strategic relationship for both the U.S. and Japan. Japan desperately needed China’s raw materials in order to continue its program of modernization. The U.S. needed a democratic Chinese government to counter both Japanese military expansion in the Pacific and the spread of communism in Asia. Liberal Japanese resented American anti-Japanese policies, particularly in California, where exclusionary laws were passed to prevent Japanese Americans from competing with U.S. citizens in the agricultural industry. In spite of these tensions, a 1941 federal report requested by Roosevelt indicated that more than 90 percent of Japanese Americans were considered loyal citizens. Nevertheless, under increasing pressure from agricultural associations, military advisors and influential California politicians, Roosevelt agreed to begin the necessary steps for possible internment of the Japanese-American population.

Ostensibly issued in the interest of national security, Proclamation No. 2537 permitted the arrest, detention and internment of enemy aliens who violated restricted areas, such as ports, water treatment plants or even areas prone to brush fires, for the duration of the war. A month later, a reluctant but resigned Roosevelt signed the War Department’s blanket Executive Order 9066, which authorized the physical removal of all Japanese Americans into internment camps.

One of the Hillside Stranglers Sentenced to Life

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 9:19am

Angelo Buono, one of the Hillside Stranglers, is sentenced to life in prison for his role in the rape, torture, and murder of 10 young women in Los Angeles. Buono’s cousin and partner in crime, Kenneth Bianchi, testified against Buono to escape the death penalty.

Buono, a successful auto upholsterer, and Bianchi began their serial crime spree in 1977 when Bianchi moved from New York to live with his cousin. They started talking about how the prostitutes that Buono often brought home would hardly be missed by anyone if they disappeared. Idle speculation quickly led to action and the pair raped and strangled their first victim, Yolanda Washington, on October 17.

Within a month Buono and Bianchi had attacked three other women and developed a trademark method of operation. They picked up the women in their van, drove them back to Buono’s house where they were sexually assaulted in all manners, tortured, and strangled to death. The duo then thoroughly cleaned the bodies before taking and posing them in lascivious positions on hillsides in the Los Angeles area, often near police stations. Thus, they earned the nickname the “Hillside Strangler.” The press assumed that it was the work of one man.

Following the death of the 10th victim in February 1978, the murders suddenly stopped. Buono and Bianchi were no longer getting along, even with their common hobby. Bianchi moved to Washington and applied for a job at the Bellingham Police Department. He didn’t get the job, but became a security guard instead. However, he couldn’t keep his murderous impulses in check and killed two college students. A witness who had seen the two girls with Bianchi came forward and the case was solved.

Bianchi, who hadseen the moviesSybil and The Three Faces of Eve many times, suddenly claimed to have multiple personalities. He blamed the murders on “Steve,” one of his alternate personalities. Psychiatrists examining Bianchi quickly dismissed his ruse and Bianchi then confessed to the Hillside Strangler murders, testifying against Buono to avoid the death penalty in Washington.

During his trial, Buono fiercely insisted on his innocence, pointing to the fact that there was no physical evidence tying him to the crimes. Buono’s house was so clean that investigators couldn’t even find Buono’s own fingerprints in the home. But after more than 400 witnesses testified, Buono was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Angelo Buono died from a heart attack on Sept. 21, 2002 at the age of 67. Kenneth Bianchi was denied parole in September 2005 and remains in prison.

Columbus mistakes manatees for mermaids

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 9:09am

On this day in 1493, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, sees three “mermaids”–in reality manatees–and describes them as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” Six months earlier, Columbus (1451-1506) set off from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, hoping to find a western trade route to Asia. Instead, his voyage, the first of four he would make, led him to the Americas, or “New World.”

Mermaids, mythical half-female, half-fish creatures, have existed in seafaring cultures at least since the time of the ancient Greeks. Typically depicted as having a woman’s head and torso, a fishtail instead of legs and holding a mirror and comb, mermaids live in the ocean and, according to some legends, can take on a human shape and marry mortal men. Mermaids are closely linked to sirens, another folkloric figure, part-woman, part-bird, who live on islands and sing seductive songs to lure sailors to their deaths.

Mermaid sightings by sailors, when they weren’t made up, were most likely manatees, dugongs or Steller’s sea cows (which became extinct by the 1760s due to over-hunting). Manatees are slow-moving aquatic mammals with human-like eyes, bulbous faces and paddle-like tails. It is likely that manatees evolved from an ancestor they share with the elephant. The three species of manatee (West Indian, West African and Amazonian) and one species of dugong belong to the Sirenia order. As adults, they’re typically 10 to 12 feet long and weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds. They’re plant-eaters, have a slow metabolism and can only survive in warm water.

Manatees live an average of 50 to 60 years in the wild and have no natural predators. However, they are an endangered species. In the U.S., the majority of manatees are found in Florida, where scores of them die or are injured each year due to collisions with boat.

Wilson announces his 14 Points

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 8:43am

In an address before a joint meeting of Congress, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson discusses the aims of the United States in World War I and outlines his “14 Points” for achieving a lasting peace in Europe. The peace proposal called for unselfish peace terms from the victorious Allies, the restoration of territories conquered during the war, the right to national self-determination, and the establishment of a postwar world body to resolve future conflict. The speech was translated and distributed to the soldiers and citizens of Germany and Austria-Hungary and contributed significantly to their agreeing to an armistice in November 1918.

After the war ended, Wilson traveled to France, where he headed the American delegation to the conference at Versailles. Functioning as the moral leader of the Allies, Wilson struggled to orchestrate a just peace, though the other victorious Allies opposed most of his 14 Points. The final treaty called for stiff reparations payments from the former Central Powers and other demanding peace terms that would contribute to the outbreak of World War II two decades later. However, Wilson’s ideas on national self-determination and a postwar world body were embodied in the treaty. In 1920, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Price for his efforts.

The Battle of New Orleans

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 8:39am

Two weeks after the War of 1812 officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, U.S. General Andrew Jackson achieves the greatest American victory of the war at the Battle of New Orleans.

In September 1814, an impressive American naval victory on Lake Champlain forced invading British forces back into Canada and led to the conclusion of peace negotiations in Ghent, Belgium. Although the peace agreement was signed on December 24, word did not reach the British forces assailing the Gulf coast in time to halt a major attack.

On January 8, 1815, the British marched against New Orleans, hoping that by capturing the city they could separate Louisiana from the rest of the United States. Pirate Jean Lafitte, however, had warned the Americans of the attack, and the arriving British found militiamen under General Andrew Jackson strongly entrenched at the Rodriquez Canal. In two separate assaults, the 7,500 British soldiers under Sir Edward Pakenham were unable to penetrate the U.S. defenses, and Jackson’s 4,500 troops, many of them expert marksmen from Kentucky and Tennessee, decimated the British lines. In half an hour, the British had retreated, General Pakenham was dead, and nearly 2,000 of his men were killed, wounded, or missing. U.S. forces suffered only eight killed and 13 wounded.

Although the battle had no bearing on the outcome of the war, Jackson’s overwhelming victory elevated national pride, which had suffered a number of setbacks during the War of 1812. The Battle of New Orleans was also the last armed engagement between the United States and Britain.

President Nixon refuses to hand over tapes

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 8:41am

President Richard Nixon refuses to hand over tape recordings and documents that had been subpoenaed by the Senate Watergate Committee. Marking the beginning of the end of his Presidency, Nixon would resign from office in disgrace eight months later.

Nancy Pelosi becomes first female Speaker of the House

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 8:38am

On January 4, 2007, John Boehner handed the speaker of the House gavel over to Nancy Pelosi, a Democratic Representative from California. With the passing of the gavel, she became the first woman to hold the speaker of the House position, as well as the only woman to get that close the presidency. After the Vice President, she was now second in line via the presidential order of succession.

“It is an historic moment for the Congress, and a historic moment for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years,” Pelosi said after receiving the gavel. “For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit, anything is possible for them.”

Pelosi’s Congressional career began 20 years before, when she was one of only 25 women who served in both the House and the Senate. She became the Democratic whip in 2001 and served as the minority leader between 2003 and her election as speaker in 2007. In 2002, she was one of the House members to vote against President George W. Bush’s request to use military force in Iraq.

As with many women in powerful political positions, critics frequently targeted her looks and her “likability.” Attack ads showed pictures of her meant to be unflattering or inappropriately aggressive. After she became speaker, conservative media started to speculate about whether she’d had plastic surgery.

During her first two terms as speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011, she developed a reputation as a tireless fundraiser and a successful securer of votes within her caucus. Her terms as speaker also coincided with Barack Obama’s first presidential term, and Pelosi was interstrumental on organizing House votes for the Affordable Care Act.


During the 2010 midterms, the National Republican Congressional Committee cited her in 70 percent of its ads. The Democrats lost their House majority that election and Pelosi returned to her position as minority leader. After Democrats reclaimed the House in the 2018 midterms, she received her party’s nomination to be its official candidate for speaker of the House.

The euro debuts

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 8:36am

On this day in 1999, for the first time since Charlemagne’s reign in the ninth century, Europe is united with a common currency when the “euro” debuts as a financial unit in corporate and investment markets. Eleven European Union (EU) nations (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain), representing some 290 million people, launched the currency in the hopes of increasing European integration and economic growth. Closing at a robust 1.17 U.S. dollars on its first day, the euro promised to give the dollar a run for its money in the new global economy. Euro cash, decorated with architectural images, symbols of European unity and member-state motifs, went into circulation on January 1, 2002, replacing the Austrian schilling, Belgian franc, Finnish markka, French franc, German mark, Italian lira, Irish punt, Luxembourg franc, Netherlands guilder, Portugal escudo and Spanish peseta. A number of territories and non-EU nations including Monaco and Vatican City also adopted the euro.

Conversion to the euro wasn’t without controversy. Despite the practical benefits of a common currency that would make it easier to do business and travel throughout Europe, there were concerns that the changeover process would be costly and chaotic, encourage counterfeiting, lead to inflation and cause individual nations to loose control over their economic policies. Great Britain, Sweden and Demark opted not to use the euro. Greece, after initially being excluded for failing to meet all the required conditions, adopted the euro in January 2001, becoming the 12th member of the so-called eurozone.

The euro was established by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty on European Union, which spelled out specific economic requirements, including high degree of price stability and low inflation, which countries must meet before they can begin using the new money. The euro consists of 8 coins and 7 paper bills. The Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) manages the euro and sets interest rates and other monetary policies. In 2004, 10 more countries joined the EU—-Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Several of these countries plan to start using the euro in 2007, with the rest to follow in coming years.

Noriega surrenders to U.S.

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 6:55am

On this day in 1990, Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega, after holing up for 10 days at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, surrenders to U.S. military troops to face charges of drug trafficking. Noriega was flown to Miami the following day and crowds of citizens on the streets of Panama City rejoiced. On July 10, 1992, the former dictator was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Noriega, who was born in Panama in 1938, was a loyal soldier to General Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a 1968 coup. Under Torrijos, Noriega headed up the notorious G-2 intelligence service, which harassed and terrorized people who criticized the Torrijos regime. Noriega also became a C.I.A. operative, while at the same time getting rich smuggling drugs.

In 1981, Omar Torrijos died in a plane crash and after a two-year power struggle, Noriega emerged as general of Panama’s military forces. He became the country’s de facto leader, fixing presidential elections so he could install his own puppet officials. Noriega’s rule was marked by corruption and violence. He also became a double agent, selling American intelligence secrets to Cuba and Eastern European governments. In 1987, when Panamanians organized protests against Noriega and demanded his ouster, he declared a national emergency, shut down radio stations and newspapers and forced his political enemies into exile.

That year the United States cut off aid to Panama and tried to get Noriega to resign; in 1988, the U.S. began considering the use of military action to put an end to his drug trafficking. Noriega voided the May 1989 presidential election, which included a U.S.-backed candidate, and in December of that year he declared his country to be in a state of war with the United States. Shortly afterward, an American marine was killed by Panamanian soldiers. President George H.W. Bush authorized “Operation Just Cause,” and on December 20, 1989, 13,000 U.S. troops were sent to occupy Panama City, along with the 12,000 already there, and seize Noriega. During the invasion, 23 U.S. troops were killed in action and over 300 were wounded. Approximately 450 Panamanian troops were killed; estimates for the number of civilians who died range from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands more injured.

Noriega, derogatorily nicknamed “Pineapple Face” in reference to his pockmarked skin, died in Panama City, Panama, on May 29, 2017.

Martin Luther excommunicated

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 6:54am

On January 3, 1521, Pope Leo X issues the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem, which excommunicates Martin Luther from the Catholic Church.

Martin Luther, the chief catalyst of Protestantism, was a professor of biblical interpretation at the University of Wittenberg in Germany when he drew up his 95 theses condemning the Catholic Church for its corrupt practice of selling indulgences, or the forgiveness of sins. He followed up the revolutionary work with equally controversial and groundbreaking theological works, and his fiery words set off religious reformers all across Europe.

In January 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther. Three months later, Luther was called to defend his beliefs before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms, where he was famously defiant. For his refusal to recant his writings, the emperor declared him an outlaw and a heretic. Luther was protected by powerful German princes, however, and by his death in 1546, the course of Western civilization had been significantly altered.

King Tut’s sarcophagus uncovered

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 6:54am

Two years after British archaeologist Howard Carter and his workmen discovered the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen near Luxor, Egypt, they uncover the greatest treasure of the tomb–a stone sarcophagus containing a solid gold coffin that holds the mummy of Tutankhamen.

When Carter first arrived in Egypt in 1891, most of the ancient Egyptian tombs had been discovered, although the little-known Pharaoh Tutankhamen, who had died when he was a teen, was still unaccounted for. After World War I, Carter began an intensive search for “King Tut’s Tomb,” finally finding steps to the burial room hidden in the debris near the entrance of the nearby tomb of King Ramses VI in the Valley of the Kings. On November 26, 1922, Carter and fellow archaeologist Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb, finding it miraculously intact.

Thus began a monumental excavation process in which Carter carefully explored the four-room tomb over four years, uncovering an incredible collection of several thousand objects. The most splendid architectural find was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, made out of solid gold, was the mummy of the boy-king Tutankhamen, preserved for more than 3,000 years.