Prohibition Ends: December 5, 1933

Prohibition Ends: December 5, 1933

On December 5, 1933, Prohibition came to an end with the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which had outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol since 1920.

Utah ends prohibition for nationThe passage of the 18th Amendment had been the result of decades of work by religious and progressive groups to permanently eliminate the consumption of alcohol in the United States. Groups such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League believed that getting rid of alcohol would remove many of society’s ills. Brewery-owned saloons, in particular, were seen by temperance and prohibition groups as the root of many evils, and these establishments were targeted by activists such as Carrie Nation, who became famous for smashing up saloons.

Finally, by late 1917, there was enough support in Congress to pass the 18th Amendment, which was ratified by the states in early 1919. Prohibition was set to go into effect in 1920, and in preparation, the National Prohibition Act (more commonly known as the Volstead Act) was passed in late 1919. Under the Volstead Act, it was illegal to manufacture, sell, or transport any beverage with an alcohol content of more than 0.5%. Exceptions were made for medical or religious needs, and it was still legal to drink in your own home and to make wine for personal use.

Though Prohibition did see an overall decline in alcohol consumption in the country, it had many unintended consequences. It was illegal to sell alcohol, but it wasn’t illegal to buy or drink it, which led to the rise of a black market alcohol industry of bootleggers and smugglers. This strengthened organized crime syndicates, who made significant amounts of money off illegal alcohol. Gang violence increased, perhaps most notoriously in Chicago, and criminals such as Al Capone became household names. With so much money to be made from black market alcohol, bribery of Prohibition agents, police, judges, and politicians was rampant.

These and other issues—such as the onset of the Great Depression—as well as the rise of powerful anti-Prohibition groups (such as the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform), finally turned the tide against Prohibition. The 1932 Democratic Party platform was anti-Prohibition, and when Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidential election, anti-Prohibition forces passed the 21st Amendment in Congress. The amendment, which repealed Prohibition, was quickly ratified by the states, with Utah casting the deciding vote in favor of repeal on December 5, 1933.

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King Tut’s Tomb Discovered: November 4, 1922

King Tut's Tomb Discovered: November 4, 1922

On November 4, 1922, the first stair to what would eventually be uncovered as Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered in Egypt by the team of British archaeologist Howard Carter. King Tut’s tomb would quickly gain fame for being among the most intact pharaonic tombs, as well as for the curse that some said affected those who were involved in the tomb’s discovery.

New Tomb Found Egypt's GreatestHoward Carter had been excavating in the Valley of the Kings under the patronage of Lord Carnarvon since 1917, but by 1922 he still had not made any finds of major significance. When Lord Carnarvon threatened to withdraw his funding, Carter convinced Carnarvon to bankroll a final excavation season. The request paid off, and on November 4, 1922, Carter’s team discovered the top of a staircase. Further digging revealed a door to what would turn out to be Tutankhamen’s tomb, and Carter sent word to Carnarvon, who joined him in Egypt.

The tomb was officially opened on November 29 (though Carter, Carnarvon, and others had secretly entered before that), and they discovered that though the tomb appeared to have been robbed twice in antiquity, the majority of the treasures and other items remained inside. With such a host of artifacts, work on the tomb was slow and painstaking. It took months after the tomb’s discovery for the burial chamber to be opened, and three years after the discovery for the archaeologists to finally view Tutankhamen’s mummy itself. In total, it would take eight years for all the objects in the tomb to be documented and removed.

As soon as word got out about the discovery in 1922, the world was fascinated with the wonders that were uncovered from the 3,000-year-old tomb. Despite the ancient grave robbing attempts, Tut’s tomb was still among the best-preserved pharaoh’s tombs ever discovered. However, another factor also increased King Tut’s fame: the so-called “curse of the pharaohs.”

Beginning with Lord Carnarvon’s illness and death in April 1923 (due to complications following an infected mosquito bite), rumors of the curse grabbed the public’s attention. From then on, the deaths of any of the people associated with the tomb’s discovery were attributed to a curse that was said to affect anyone who had disturbed Tutankhamen’s rest. In all, dozens of deaths were claimed to be the result of the curse—though Howard Carter himself would live for more than 15 years after the discovery.

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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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