Soviet Union Launches Sputnik: October 4, 1957

Soviet Union Launches Sputnik: October 4, 1957

October 4 marks 60 years since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik— the first manmade satellite—into orbit in 1957, one of the instigating events of the Cold War Space Race and one that ignited fears in the United States regarding perceived Soviet superiority.

Sputnik headline
In 1955, the United States—and a few days later the Soviet Union—announced that it would launch an artificial satellite during 1957, the International Geophysical Year, which was set aside as a time to focus on scientific research. Though the United States had the missile technology to launch a satellite, the Soviet Union beat them to it, launching Sputnik—a 2-foot sphere carrying a radio transmitter—on October 4 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in what is today Kazakhstan. The satellite’s radio signals, heard as a series of beeps, could be picked up by amateur radio operators around the world as Sputnik orbited the earth.

Then, a month later, on November 3, before the United States could launch its own satellite, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2, which carried a dog into space. The U.S. finally announced its own satellite, to be carried by the Navy’s Vanguard rocket, but the actual launch on December 6 ended in failure. It wasn’t until January 31, 1958, that the United States successfully launched a satellite known as the Explorer 1, using a Juno I rocket based on a pre-existing Army-designed missile.

The Soviet launch of Sputnik months before America launched its own satellite sparked what became known as the “Sputnik crisis,” as the American public grew worried that the launch of Sputnik indicated a Soviet technological and scientific superiority. Anxiety also grew over national security, as the Soviet satellite launch seemed to confirm a “missile gap” between the two nations, with the Soviets appearing to come out on top. In response to these fears, President Eisenhower announced the creation of NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), and the U.S. also revamped its education system to emphasize math, science, and engineering.

The Space Race between the U.S. and Soviet Union peaked in 1969 with the United States’ moon landing, though it would continue with varying intensity until the USSR’s dissolution in 1991.

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Death of President Garfield: September 19, 1881

Death of President Garfield: September 19, 1881

On the night of September 19, 1881, President James A. Garfield died in New Jersey, largely due to infection that set in after he was shot in the back by an assassin more than two months prior.

Headlines announcing President Garfield was shotA former Civil War general and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Garfield wasn’t even one of the candidates for nominee when he attended the 1880 Republican presidential convention. Instead, there were initially three other contenders: former president Ulysses S. Grant, Senator James G. Blaine, and Treasury Secretary John Sherman. However, due to fierce divisions within the party, Republicans were unable to come to consensus on a nominee.

Finally, after more than 30 ballots without a winner, Garfield’s name was suggested. Garfield was acceptable to all the various factions within the Republican Party and quickly won the nomination. In the general election later that year, he beat the Democratic nominee by a comfortable margin in the Electoral College, though his popular vote win was much more narrow.

Garfield took office as president in March 1881, but he did not have time to accomplish much. On July 2, just four months after his inauguration, Garfield was at a train station in Washington DC, when he was shot in the arm and back from close range by Charles A. Guiteau. Guiteau—who believed that it was God’s will that he kill Garfield to save the Republican Party—was apprehended at the scene and willingly admitted to shooting the president. He would be executed a year later.

The wounded Garfield was taken to the White House, where over the next two months he got worse and worse as he developed a serious infection in his back wound, likely due to the unsanitary treatment of his wound by his doctors. The public closely followed newspaper reports of his health, though Garfield’s doctors sugarcoated their accounts of his condition.

Finally, in September, Garfield was moved to New Jersey in hopes that the seaside air would improve his health. But the infection was too severe, and on the night of September 19, Garfield passed away in great pain at the age of 49. He was succeeded by his vice president, Chester A. Arthur, and would go down in history as the president with the second-shortest time in office (following William Henry Harrison, who served just 31 days).

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Bonus Army Forced from the Capital: July 28, 1932

Bonus Army Forced from the Capital: July 28, 1932

On July 28, 1932, U.S. troops expelled thousands of American World War I veterans—known as the Bonus Army—from their camps in Washington DC, after months of protests and marches by the Bonus Army failed to result in legislation that would allow them to receive promised government funds early.

Bonus Army after being evicted from DC In the years following World War I, Congress passed legislation that would pay veterans of the conflict an adjusted “bonus” compensation for their time in the service, to be paid out in 1945. However, when the Great Depression struck, many veterans were out of work and wanted the government to pay them the money immediately rather than in 1945.

Starting in May 1932, veterans from across the country made their way to Washington DC to lobby and show their support for a bill introduced in Congress that would pay them their money early. Soon, an estimated 11,000–20,000 veterans—who quickly became known as the Bonus Army, or Bonus Expeditionary Force—as well as some families, crowded the capital, setting up massive camps in the area.

On June 15, the bill was passed in the House of Representatives, but it failed in the Senate two days later. The veterans were disappointed, but they largely reacted peacefully and many returned home—though thousands still remained in the capital.

In late July, after Congress had adjourned, the government decided that the veterans should vacate the abandoned buildings they had occupied along Pennsylvania Avenue. However, the veterans refused to leave, and on July 28 violence broke out between veterans and police, resulting in the deaths of two veterans.

The district commissioners requested that federal troops intervene, and hundreds of infantry and cavalry were sent out, led by General Douglas MacArthur. The troops used tear gas, bayonets, sabers, and tanks to push the veterans out of the downtown area, and then MacArthur proceeded to likewise clear out the veterans’ main camp at Anacostia Flats, which went up in flames.

Though the government claimed that the troops only used minimal force, and alleged that many of the marchers who were routed were radicals and criminals rather than veterans, the public largely reacted negatively to the use of federal troops on the veterans. The incident increased the public’s dissatisfaction with President Hoover, who would lose reelection that fall. The early bonus payments the veterans sought would not be approved until 4 years later, in 1936.

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St. Louis Refugee Ship Forced to Return to Europe: June 6, 1939

St. Louis Refugee Ship Forced to Return to Europe: June 6, 1939

On June 6, 1939, the St. Louis, a German transatlantic liner, was forced to sail back to Europe after more than 900 of its passengers [https://newspapers.ushmm.org/article/4716] (primarily German-Jewish refugees) were refused entry by Cuba; over 200 of these refugees would later die in the Holocaust.

St/ Louis Steams AwayThe St. Louis departed Germany for Cuba on May 13. The majority of the 937 passengers were German Jews fleeing the increasing discrimination and violence against Jews under Hitler, and many planned to stay in Cuba only until they received U.S. visas. However, unbeknownst to most of the passengers, a week before the ship sailed, the Cuban government invalidated one of the types of travel documents held by the refugees.

When the ship arrived in Cuba on May 27, fewer than 30 passengers—those who had the proper papers—were allowed to disembark. Despite days of negotiations, the Cuban government could not be persuaded to allow the refugees to enter. Leaving Cuban waters on June 2, the ship sailed near the Florida coast. Passengers petitioned President Roosevelt for refuge but received no answer. The St. Louis was finally forced to return to Europe on June 6.

Throughout May and June, newspapers across the United States covered the plight of the refugees on board the St. Louis. However, reactions and opinions varied on the question of the refugees and on the related topic of immigration from Europe. For example, one letter to the editor, featured in Iowa’s Des Moines Register on June 11, was passionate in its support of the refugees: “As a human being, as a Christian, and as an American, I object to the treatment of 900 Jews aboard the ship ‘St. Louis.’ Surely […] we could shelter these tortured people until some permanent settlement could be made.”

In sharp contrast, another letter to the editor, this time from the De Kalb, Illinois, Daily Chronicle on June 20, took an isolationist stance regarding people fleeing Europe: “Until we [the United States] prove that we can handle our own political affairs intelligently, the proper thing for us to do is stay in our own back yard, lock the gate, and take care of our own troubles, which are plenty. Let Europe take care of their own destitute.”

Upon returning to Europe, the St. Louis was allowed to dock in Antwerp, Belgium, on June 17. The United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands agreed to divide the passengers among them, but safety for many of the refugees was short lived. Except for the refugees accepted by the United Kingdom, many of the former passengers were subject to Germany’s destructive sweep across Europe during World War II; 254 of the St. Louis‘s refugees would die during the Holocaust.

Interested in the St. Louis or other subjects related to the Holocaust? Newspapers.com invites you to participate in the History Unfolded project run by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. As part of an effort to learn more about what Americans knew about the Holocaust as it was happening, the History Unfolded project asks people like you to search newspapers (on Newspapers.com, for example) for Holocaust-related news and opinions and submit them online to the museum. Not only will your findings be made available to scholars, curators, and the public, but you’ll also be helping to shape our understanding of this important period of history. For more information on the project, visit the History Unfolded website.

The Johnstown Flood of 1889: May 31, 1889

The Johnstown Flood of 1889: May 31, 1889

On the afternoon of May 31, 1889, heavy rains caused the dam on Lake Conemaugh to fail, sending the water from the lake rushing downstream to devastate the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. With a death toll upwards of two thousand, the Johnstown flood was the deadliest natural disaster in American history up to that point.

Johnstown Flood of 1889 headlinesLake Conemaugh was a manmade reservoir created in 1853. In 1879, the lake and the surrounding land were sold to the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club to create a getaway in the Pennsylvania mountains for Pittsburg’s elite, including Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon. Although warned in 1881 by an engineer that the lake’s dam desperately needed maintenance—improper repairs, among other problems, had weakened the dam—the club ignored the recommendations.

Fourteen miles downstream from Lake Conemaugh was Johnstown, a booming steel mill city. An unusually heavy rainstorm that began on May 30, 1889, caused nearby rivers to overflow their banks, and the streets of Johnstown filled with water; the storm also caused the waters of Lake Conemaugh to rise rapidly. Despite frantic last-ditch efforts to prevent the dam from failing, the dam collapsed around 3 p.m. on the 31st.

The water of Lake Conemaugh was sent hurtling into the valley below, wreaking havoc on the smaller towns in its path and wiping out houses, trees, railcars, animals, and people. By the time the water reached Johnstown about an hour later, it was still dozens of feet deep and moving at about 40 miles per hour.

As the water cut its destructive path through Johnstown, the massive amount of debris carried by the flood accumulated against a stone railroad bridge that stood on the edge of the city. Somehow, the mountain of debris caught fire that evening, and the resulting conflagration killed many people who had been trapped in the debris.

The water from the dam took only about 10 minutes to sweep through the city, but it left incredible damage in its wake. More than two thousand people were killed, including ninety-nine entire families, and 1,600 homes were destroyed.

When news of the disaster reached the outside world, money and supplies came pouring in to help the people of Johnstown and the surrounding communities rebuild their homes, businesses, and lives. Clara Barton and her newly created American Red Cross provided relief for five months. Although lawsuits were filed against the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, none of them were successful, and the club was not held legally accountable for the disaster.

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First Oklahoma Land Rush: April 22, 1889

Oklahoma land rush begins In March, President Benjamin Harrison had announced that land in Indian Territory called the Oklahoma District (land obtained from the Creek and Seminole that wasn’t currently assigned to a tribe) would shortly be opened up to non-Native American settlers. This move came after years of eager homesteaders known as “boomers” trying to illegally settle the land; they were repeatedly removed by federal troops, but eventually the pressure on Washington from boomers, western congressmen, and railroads proved strong enough for the government to agree to allow non-Native American settlers to stake claims in the Oklahoma District.

So on April 22, roughly 50,000 prospective settlers (though some estimates range as high as 100,000) gathered at the borders of the Oklahoma District, waiting for the signal—a gunshot in most places—to begin their race to claim land. At noon the signal was given, and the men (and a few women) moved on foot, on horseback, by wagon, and by train to try to get to the best spots of land first.

While some of these settlers staked out potential farms, others raced to the site of future towns to claim lots for businesses. The chaos led to some pieces of land being claimed by more than one person, or to claims that overlapped. The settlers were also frustrated to find that some of the best land and lots had already been claimed by “sooners,” people who had snuck in illegally beforehand to strike their claims early.

In a single day, almost 2 million acres of land were claimed. The city of Guthrie went from a population of zero to 15,000 on that day, and Oklahoma City similarly went from nonexistent to 10,000 inhabitants.

The land rush of 1889 was just the beginning of a series of land rushes that opened up most of Oklahoma to non-Native American settlement, with the largest occurring in 1893. Through the Dawes Act and other government actions during this time period, the Native American tribes in the region lost approximately two-thirds of the land the government had previously given them.

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“War Time” Daylight Saving Begins: February 9, 1942

U.S. Presidential Inauguration: January 20, 2017

On February 9, 1942, “War Time”—a year-round daylight saving time—began in the United States. Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the year-round daylight saving time required that clocks be moved ahead one hour for the remainder of the war as a national defense measure to conserve energy.

Missouri votes on daylight saving time, 1947America first implemented a partial-year daylight saving time in March 1918, during World War I, and though there was popular support for the wartime measure, there was also disapproval, primarily from farmers and the railroads. The national daylight saving time was repealed after the war ended, but it continued on at the local level, especially in the North, East, and parts of the Midwest.

A national daylight saving time was again implemented during World War II, but this time, rather than lasting only part of the year, daylight saving time lasted all year. The purpose of “War Time,” as this form of daylight saving time was called, was to conserve power and provide extra daylight for war industries to increase production. As with World War I, after World War II ended, the national daylight saving time was quickly repealed, but it remained a local issue, with each state, city, and even business deciding whether it would adopt daylight saving time or not.

This patchwork form of daylight saving time caused much inconvenience and confusion, and in 1966 a national law was signed calling for daylight saving time to fall from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, with the option for states to exempt themselves. The energy crisis of the 1970s once again prompted the adoption of a year-round daylight saving time beginning in January 1974, but it actually only lasted 10 months, as legislation was signed adjusting yet again the time period of daylight saving time.

Another bill was signed in 1986 that moved daylight saving time to the period from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday of October. This remained the law for many years until the most recent daylight saving legislation, implemented in 2007, set daylight saving time from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.

Daylight saving time has remained a contentious issue in the United States ever since it was first implemented during World War I, as people debate its effect on energy, safety, farming, and much more. However, most of the United States now follows daylight saving time, with the exception of Arizona, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories.

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U.S. Presidential Inauguration: January 20, 2017

U.S. Presidential Inauguration: January 20, 2017

January 20 is the 2017 U.S. presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. In preparation for the event, brush up on your knowledge about inaugurations for the country’s highest office:

  • FDR's second inauguration, 1937
    In 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to be inaugurated on January 20. Previous presidents (including FDR for his first term) had traditionally been inaugurated on March 4, but the 20th Amendment, passed in 1933, stipulated a January 20 inauguration.

  • The Oath of Office is traditionally administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, though not required. There is also no requirement that it occur in Washington, D.C., or that the president place his hand on the Bible. The only thing prescribed by the Constitution is that the president take the Oath of Office.

  • Chief Justice John Marshall administered the Oath of Office the most number of times: 9 times to 5 men. Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney administered it to the most presidents: 7 times to 7 men.

  • A total of four March inauguration dates fell on a Sunday (1821, 1849, 1877, 1917); the swearing-in ceremonies in these cases were all postponed until the next day. Three January inauguration dates have fallen on a Sunday: 1957 (Dwight D. Eisenhower), 1985 (Ronald Reagan), and 2013 (Barack Obama); these three presidents were sworn in privately on the 20th and then a public ceremony was held the next day.

  • The shortest and longest inaugural addresses were given by George Washington and William Henry Harrison, respectively. Washington’s second inaugural address was only 135 words long. William Henry Harrison’s inaugural address was 8,445 words long.

  • Due to a major snow storm, John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural parade was only possible because of a major mobilization of snow plows and other equipment.

  • Multiple inaugural balls are held throughout Washington, D.C. The new president and first lady make appearances at all official parties.

  • Barack Obama took the Oath of Office four times: twice each time he was elected. He took it twice in 2009 because there was some concern it wasn’t properly administered at the formal swearing-in, so he took it again the next day. He took it twice in 2013 because January 20 fell on a Sunday, so there was a small swearing-in ceremony on the 20th and then the public ceremony on the 21st.

  • 2017 will be the nation’s 58th formal presidential inauguration ceremony.

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U.S. Coal Mining’s Deadliest Month: December 1907

U.S. Coal Mining's Deadliest Month: December 1907

Horrors at Pit Mouth of Darr Mine
December 1907 was the deadliest month in American coal mining, with a total of five separate mining disasters that together killed more than 700 men and boys in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Alabama, and New Mexico.

The biggest of these disasters was an explosion that decimated two connected mines in Monongah, West Virginia, on December 6. The explosion happened around 10:30 in the morning and killed at least 360 miners, though the number of dead was likely higher, as men frequently brought their sons to work in the mine off the books.

Newspapers covered the disaster as well as the tragic aftermath, as shown in an excerpt from the Greenville, Pennsylvania, Record-Argus, which reads, “Throughout the night great crowds of wailing women and children congregated about the mine entrances and the scene is heartrending, as all now know that there is not the slightest chance of their loved ones being alive.”

Images from the Darr mine disaster

Even more miners would have died if dozens of those of the Roman Catholic faith hadn’t stayed home from work to observe St. Nicholas Day. No official cause of the explosion was determined, though officials speculated gas or coal dust in the mine was likely ignited by a spark or lamp flame. It is still considered America’s worst mining disaster.

The second-deadliest of December’s coal mining disasters occurred at the Darr Mine in western Pennsylvania at 11:30 in the morning on the 19th. This explosion killed at least 239 men and boys, many of them immigrants. As was often the case in those days, the mining company was found not to be at fault, despite accusations of neglect. An inquiry determined that the explosion was most likely caused by an open-flame lamp in an area that had been cordoned off because of high levels of gas.

Map of area of Darr mine disaster (at Jacobs Creek at center)
In a twist of fate, the 19th was again St. Nicholas Day (this time for the Eastern churches, which use a different calendar), and it is estimated that possibly hundreds of miners of the Greek Catholic and Orthodox faiths survived because they chose to forego the day’s wages to instead observe the saint’s day. The Darr mine disaster was the worst in Pennsylvania history and the second worst in the United States, following the Monongah disaster.

Do you have any family who worked in the coal mines? Tell us about them! Or learn more about the mining disasters of December 1907—or of any period of American history—on Newspapers.com.

The Great Diamond Hoax Is Revealed: November 25, 1872

The Great Diamond Hoax Is Revealed: November 25, 1872

Headlines about the Diamond Hoax
On November 25, 1872, one of the greatest hoaxes of the day was revealed when it was discovered that some of the biggest names in business had been conned into investing in a fake diamond field by two Kentucky swindlers.

Following the gold rush of 1849 and silver rush of the Comstock Lode in 1859, it seemed like the American West held endless possibilities for wealth. So when two Kentucky prospectors showed up at a bank in San Francisco in 1871 with a bag full of uncut diamonds, news of the gems quickly leaked to the founder of the bank, William C. Ralston. The two prospectors, Philip Arnold and John Slack, were tracked down, and eventually they were persuaded to divulge that they had found a major diamond field, loaded with a variety of gems in such abundance that they could practically be plucked off the ground. Ralston alerted some of his business associates, and after the two prospectors reported they had returned to the diamond field and found even more stones, Ralston and his associates decided to try to buy the two men out.

But what Ralston didn’t know was that Arnold and Slack were con men. The bags of diamonds they presented were actually ones of inferior quality that they had acquired, and as soon as they got money from Ralston, they used that money to secretly travel to London and buy more inferior uncut diamonds (along with some rubies, emeralds, and sapphires for good measure).

Nov 26 headlines about the diamond fraud

Under the pretense of going to their “diamond field” along the Colorado-Wyoming border (though some newspapers would report it as being in Arizona) to find more gems for the businessmen, Arnold and Slack actually went there to salt their diamond field. When Arnold and Slack returned with the gems they had “found,” the businessmen took a sample to famous diamond expert Charles Lewis Tiffany in New York for authentication. However, neither Tiffany nor his lapidary had experience with uncut stones, so they mistakenly valued the gems at far more than they were actually worth.

With luck still on his side, Arnold got more money from the businessmen and once again secretly traveled to Europe to buy more low-quality uncut gems to further salt the so-called diamond field. Arnold and Slack’s luck continued, because when the businessmen hired an expert mining engineer—Henry Janin—to travel to the diamond field to authenticate it, Janin somehow concluded that the diamond field was real. Deciding it was time to leave before the scheme collapsed, Arnold and Slack sold off the rest of their interest in the diamond field (netting an estimated $8-10 million in today’s money).

News of the rich diamond fields hits the newspapers
The hoax was finally discovered when Janin happened to meet government geologist Clarence King on a train. King decided to take a look at the diamond field himself, and not long after he arrived he and his team began noticing suspicious things about the site, like diamonds and other gems being found in places and groupings where they wouldn’t naturally occur.

King immediately informed Ralston and the other investors about the fraud, and news of the swindle broke in San Francisco newspapers on November 25, 1872, revealing that many high-profile figures from both coasts had been duped. When Arnold was eventually tracked down back home in Kentucky, he settled out of court and ended up only having to pay back a fraction of the money he had earned from the con. Slack was never found.

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