Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Released Nationwide: February 4, 1938

Halifax Explosion: December 6, 1917

Snow White and Her Prince
On February 4, 1938, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—the first full-length animated feature film—had its general release to theaters throughout the country, where it was an instant success.

Before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney had gained fame for his innovative use of sound, color, and multi-plane camera technology in animation through his animated shorts of Mickey Mouse and his Silly Symphonies. Always searching for new ideas, Disney announced to his studio in 1934 that they would be creating the first full-length animated film, based on the Grimm’s fairy tale of Snow White.

The process of making Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would take the Disney studio three years and cost about $1.5 million—many times above the original budget. The studio grew from about 200 to 600 employees to handle the multi-step process of hand cel animation, which would eventually result in more than 200,000 drawings for the film.

Snow White's Seven Dwarfs

With Disney’s high standards for the film, and the animators’ and other staff’s need to innovate solutions to problems that hadn’t been encountered before, the film progressed slowly. As the date of the Hollywood premiere neared, many skeptics doubted whether “Disney’s folly,” as some called it, would be completed on time.

But when the premiere date rolled around on December 21, 1937, not only was the film complete, but the star-studded Hollywood audience loved it. The film was released to Radio City Music Hall in New York in January, where it ran for five weeks—a run longer than any other film previously shown there. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had its general release in the United States starting on February 4, and over the following months it played at theaters all over the country, as well as overseas.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs glasses
The film was a hit, receiving both popular and critical acclaim. Theaters were packed, and some had multiple runs of the film to accommodate all the fans. Snow White—themed merchandise, from hats and dolls to garden seeds and glasses, was everywhere, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ended up earning $8 million (over $100 million today) in its first year. It remains one of the top grossing American films of all time.

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Cabinet Member Resigns Following Political Scandal: January 2, 1923

Halifax Explosion: December 6, 1917

Teapot Dome scandal
On January 2, 1923, Albert Fall, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, announced his resignation from the Cabinet amidst news of his involvement in the Teapot Dome scandal, often considered the biggest American political scandal until Watergate.

Prior to World War I, the government had set aside two oil reserves in California and one in Wyoming to provide oil for the Navy in case there was ever a shortage. The one in Wyoming was referred to as Teapot Dome because of its proximity to a formation called Teapot Rock.

After President Warren G. Harding was elected in 1920, he appointed Albert Fall, a friend from Harding’s days in Congress, as Secretary of the Interior. While in this role, Fall oversaw the transfer of the Navy oil reserves in California and Wyoming from the oversight of the Secretary of the Navy to his own purview in May 1921.

Wyoming Oil Fields and Teapot Dome

In late 1921 and 1922, after accepting bribes, Fall secretly leased the federal oil reserves for development and drilling to two oil men, Edward Doheny and Harry Sinclair, without accepting competitive bids, shortchanging the government in favor of making millions for the oil men.

The Wall Street Journal broke the story of the lease on April 14, 1922, and almost immediately, the Senate began looking into the matter, quickly creating a committee, headed by Senator Thomas Walsh, to investigate. Hearings began in October the following year (1923), in which the Congressional committee called witnesses to testify, including Fall (who had by then resigned from the cabinet).

Sinclair jailed for contempt of Congress
In early 1924, two special prosecutors were appointed to handle the investigation, and later that year they filed several lawsuits that aimed to cancel the leases on the oil fields and convict Fall, Doheny, and Sinclair for their wrongdoing. Following various court battles, the leases were eventually overturned and Doheny and Sinclair had to pay hefty fines (Sinclair was also sentenced to six months in jail for contempt of Congress). Fall was eventually (in 1929) found guilty of accepting a bribe, fined, and sentenced to a year in prison—the first former Cabinet member to serve jail time for misconduct while in office.

The extent of President Harding’s possible involvement in the scandal remains unknown, as he died unexpectedly in August 1923 while still in office.

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Halifax Explosion: December 6, 1917

Halifax Explosion: December 6, 1917 Destruction at Halifax Harbor
On December 6, 1917, the munitions ship Mont-Blanc exploded in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia, in the biggest man-made explosion prior to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan during World War II.

While sailing into the harbor on the morning of December 6, the French munitions ship Mont-Blanc—with its cargo of 2,925 tons of explosives for the Allied war effort—encountered the Imo, a Norwegian ship headed to New York to pick up relief supplies for Belgium. The Imo was traveling on the wrong side of the Narrows (the narrowest part of the harbor), and after miscommunication between the two ships, the Imo struck the Mont-Blanc. The sparks from the collision caused some of the Mont-Blanc’s cargo to catch fire, and its crew, unable to stop the fire and knowing what would happen, abandoned ship.

The smoke cloud attracted many onlookers on shore, who came to watch as other ships tried to put out the fire and pull the Mont-Blanc farther from land. But at 9:04 a.m., the Mont-Blanc exploded, incinerating the ship and sending out a powerful shockwave that broke windows up to 50 miles away.

Destruction at Halifax Harbor

An estimated 1,500 people were killed instantly or nearly so from the explosion and shockwave, as well as from flying glass and debris, collapsing and burning buildings, and the tsunami created in the harbor that crested at 45 feet. An estimated additional 9,000 people were injured, and over the following hours and days, the death toll would rise to 1,952, nearly 500 of them children. 12,000 buildings in a 16-mile radius were damaged, with 1,630 completely destroyed, leaving 6,000 people homeless and many thousands more without adequate shelter.

Almost immediately, the rescue effort began, facilitated by the soldiers and sailors present in the wartime boomtown. Initial rescue efforts were hindered by rumors of a potential second explosion, which caused many people to flee the disaster area. Efforts were also slowed by a heavy snow storm that hit the area the following day. In the hours, days, and weeks that followed, other areas of Canada, as well as the United States and other countries, sent relief supplies, including food, blankets, clothes, money, and medical supplies, in addition to nurses and surgeons.

Rescue effort following Halifax Explosion
Though a government commission initially determined the following February that the Mont-Blanc held full responsibility for the disaster, higher courts eventually ruled that no one party was to blame.

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Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapses: November 7, 1940

War of the Worlds Radio Scare: October 30, 1938

Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapses
On November 7, 1940, at 11 a.m., the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed into Puget Sound just four months after its opening.

Although locals had wanted a bridge between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula for decades, it wasn’t until the U.S. military got behind the idea as a defense measure that the idea became a reality. Construction began on November 23, 1938, and was finished a little over a year and a half later. At the time of it’s opening on July 1, 1940, the bridge was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world, with a center span 2,800 feet long. It was extremely slender, with a deck just 2 lanes (39 feet) across and 8 feet deep, making it the most flexible suspension bridge in the world.

Before the bridge opened to the public, workers noticed that even in light winds the bridge deck developed rippling vertical waves and nicknamed the bridge “Galloping Gertie.” The motion was sometimes so pronounced that it caused some workers—and later motorists and pedestrians—to feel motion sick. Bridge engineers worked to find a solution to dampen the bridge’s movement, but when initial methods failed, they hired a university professor to solve the problem. The professor’s report was released just a week prior to the collapse and before any of his suggestions could be implemented.

Opening of new Tacoma Narrows bridge in 1950

On the morning of November 7, under winds that eventually reached 42 mph, the bridge began its typical undulations. The waves became so bad that the bridge was closed to traffic. Finally, one of the cable bands slipped, and the bridge took up a new twisting (torsional) motion. The unexpected twisting (caused by the bridge’s design and aereoelastic flutter) put too much stress on the bridge, and it collapsed 190 feet into the Sound. The only fatality was a dog in a car abandoned on the bridge.

World War II interrupted the rebuilding of the bridge, so the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge wasn’t completed until 1950. The new “Sturdy Gertie” bridge, which abandoned the extreme slenderness of the old bridge, is still in use today.

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War of the Worlds Radio Scare: October 30, 1938

War of the Worlds Radio Scare: October 30, 1938

War of the Worlds cartoon
On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre staged a radio adaptation of the H. G. Wells sci-fi novel The War of the Worlds that fooled at least some Americans into believing that Martians really were invading the United States.

In order to make the adaptation of book to radio more interesting, the show was set up to seem like a normal music program that kept getting interrupted by increasingly alarming, official-sounding “news bulletins” that tracked the violent progress of a Martian invasion centered in New Jersey. Traditional accounts maintain that despite announcements that the show was fictional, vast numbers of Americans thought the broadcast was real. In fact, newspapers the next day carried tales of mass panic and hysteria as listeners allegedly fled their homes, and Orson Welles met with the press to express regret for the confusion.

Recent scholarship on the subject, however, tends to argue that the mass panic caused by the War of the Worlds broadcast was exaggerated by the newspapers of the time. Even according to the papers themselves, not everyone strictly believed the Martian story: those who only caught part of the broadcast or heard the news secondhand often merely believed that a disaster of some kind had struck the East Coast. And many people who had initially been fooled called their local newspaper or police station to verify the story and thus quickly learned that it was fiction. Still, many people were indeed at least initially frightened by the broadcast, and the hysteria reported in the newspapers did exist to some extent, though it was more likely on an individual rather than group level.

War of the Worlds' Broadcast Creates Panic in the East

While the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast might not have been as panic-inducing as originally believed, a similar broadcast in Quito, Ecuador, in 1949 really did cause hysteria. A local version of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds program caused radio listeners to panic, and when the broadcast was revealed as fictional, their fear turned into an angry riot. The radio station was attacked, causing $350,000 ($3.5 million today) in damage and multiple deaths.

And those aren’t the only instances. Renditions of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast also fooled listeners—at least to some extent—in Chile in 1944 and in Buffalo, New York, in 1968.

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The Galveston Hurricane: September 8, 1900

The Galveston Hurricane: September 8, 1900

Example of devastation at Galveston following the hurricane
On September 8, 1900, Galveston—a low-elevation sand island just off Texas’s Gulf coast—was struck by a category 4 hurricane that decimated the island and killed thousands of people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

On the day before the hurricane struck, heavy swells were noticed in the Gulf, and by the early morning of the 8th, coastal areas of Galveston had begun to flood. Rain showers started later that morning, with heavy rains beginning by noon. By 3:30 p.m. water covered half the city, and it continued to steadily rise until about 8:30 p.m. In total, the storm surge rose about 15-20 feet, completely submerging the island (which sat just 9 feet above sea level). In addition to the flood of water, hurricane-velocity winds started around 5 p.m., topping out at an estimated 140 miles per hour and turning debris into deadly projectiles. The storm center passed over around 8:30 p.m., and finally, around 11 p.m., the wind began to subside.

The next morning, survivors discovered the hurricane had left mass devastation in its wake. The lowest estimate of those killed is 6,000, though estimates of 8,000 or 12,000 are also common. More than 3,600 houses (about half of the residence portion of the island) were totally destroyed, with all remaining structures suffering varying levels of damage.

The vast number of dead, combined with the heat and humidity, quickly created a horrible stench across the island. Residents originally tried to bury many of the dead at sea, but when the tide washed the bodies back to shore, they began to burn the bodies instead.

Path of the Galveston hurricane
A nationwide relief effort was launched to help Galveston’s devastated population, and in the months and years following the hurricane, Galveston rebuilt. Between 1902 and 1904 a 3-mile-long seawall was built to try to mitigate the damage of future storm surges. Likewise, from 1904 to 1910, sand was used to raise the city’s elevation 17 feet near the seawall, with a gradual downward slope toward the bay.

At the time of the hurricane, Galveston had been a major port and a leading city in Texas and the Gulf region. However, afterward, Galveston never regained its former glory, and Houston became the powerhouse in the region instead.

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Klondike Gold Rush Begins: August 16, 1896

Amelia Earhart Disappears: July 2, 1937

Editorial cartoon about the Klondike gold rush

On August 16, 1896, gold was discovered at Bonanza Creek in northwest Canada, launching the 1896–99 Klondike (Yukon) Gold Rush.

It didn’t take long after gold was discovered in the Yukon for word to spread to the surrounding areas. Prospectors from nearby parts of Alaska and Canada quickly snapped up the most promising claims. But due to a lack of contact with the outside world, word didn’t reach beyond the area until prospectors toting large amounts of gold got off ships in San Francisco and Seattle in mid-July 1897, nearly a year after it was first discovered.

As word of the discovery of gold spread like wildfire, people rushed to buy passage on ships heading north, and the gold rush understandably became a major story in the newspapers. But Klondike gold permeated more than just the headlines. It was the subject of editorial cartoons as well as advertisements, such as those selling supplies for the Yukon and those drumming up support for mining ventures. One paper even used the prospect of winning a small amount of real Klondike gold as an incentive to increase subscriptions and advertising.

In all, about 100,000 people started off toward the Yukon to find their fortunes. It was a long, difficult trip to get there, and Canadian authorities required each person to bring a year’s worth of food and supplies since resources were scarce that far north.

Illustration showing the character and dress of the men now at Klondyke
While some people traveled the entire way by ship, the majority traveled partway by ship and then came the rest of the way via various overland and river routes through Alaska and Canada, braving rough terrain and freezing weather. Unfortunately, when the main rush of newcomers arrived in Dawson City (the boomtown nearest the discovery) in late June and early July of 1898, they found that the best claims had already been taken, as it had been two years since the original discovery.

Out of the 100,000 people who set out for the Yukon, only about 40,000 actually made it. Of those 40,000, about 20,000 worked claims, but only about 4,000 ever found any gold. And of those who found gold, only a few hundred made it rich.

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Elvis Joins the Army: March 24, 1958

Elvis Joins the Army

On March 4, 1958, 23-year-old Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army.

Elvis to be sent to Ft. Hood

Elvis, like other young men, had registered for the draft when he turned 18. Then, despite his ensuing fame, he was declared eligible for induction in January 1957, with his draft notice arriving that December. Though he was supposed to report to the Army in January 1958, Elvis was granted a deferment until March so he could finish his current film, King Creole.

Elvis was processed into the Army on March 24, 1958, at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, surrounded by family, friends, and a sea of reporters. The singer entered regular Army service as a private, rather than joining Special Services, in which he would have entertained troops. Elvis was sent to Fort Hood, Texas, for basic training and was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division. While he was at Fort Hood, his mother, with whom he was very close, became seriously ill. Elvis was granted emergency leave, and he was able to make it to her bedside before she passed away in August.

With his training complete, in September Elvis was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division and was sent to Germany. There, Elvis apparently served dutifully and well as a driver, despite the constant media attention and fledgling amphetamine abuse.Elvis showing his sergeant's stripes
It was while he was serving in Germany that he met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he would later marry. Elvis achieved the rank of sergeant in February 1960, and a month later, on March 5, he was honorably discharged from active duty at the age of 25.

While Elvis had been busy with the Army, his manager, Tom Parker, had been busy keeping the singer’s career rolling. Over the two years of Elvis’s service, Parker released songs that had been recorded before the singer left. Less than a month after returning home, Elvis recorded a new album and a single, “Stuck on You,” which hit number one on the charts the following month. Despite his fear that his fans would leave him in his two-year absence, Elvis was back in business.

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The Sinking of the USS Maine: February 15, 1898

Sinking of the USS Maine

Headlines from the day following the Maine explosion
On February 15, 1898, at 9:40 p.m., the battleship USS Maine exploded then sank in Havana Harbor, killing about 260 of the 355 men on board. This international disaster, which was blamed on Spain, became an important catalyst for the Spanish-American War.

At the time, Cuban guerillas were engaged in a brutal fight for independence from Spain. Riots in Havana in January 1898 prompted the United States, which supported Cuba for both humanitarian and imperialistic reasons, to send the Maine to Havana as a show of strength. The ship, commanded by Captain Charles Sigsbee, arrived on January 25 and sat quietly in the harbor for the next few weeks.

Remember the Maine
But on the night of February 15, two explosions rocked the ship, sinking the Maine. The casualties were predominantly among the enlisted men, as they were quartered in the forward part of the ship, where the explosions occurred.

Although there was no hard evidence that the sinking was caused by the Spanish, a sizeable portion of the American public began clamoring for retribution almost immediately, spurred on by “yellow press” accounts that focused on sensationalism more than fact. “Remember the Maine!” quickly became a rallying cry.

An official U.S. court of inquiry was set up soon after the loss of the Maine to investigate the cause. Its findings, which did not assign blame, revealed in March that the sinking was caused by an underwater mine, which had led to the explosion of the forward magazines. Under pressure from all sides, the pro-peace William McKinley finally saw war with Spain as inevitable (for a number of reasons, though the Maine was the most visible instigating event). President McKinley asked Congress for a resolution of war, which was declared on April 25.

Spanish blamed for sinking of the Maine the day after the explosion
In later years, two other major investigations into the loss of the Maine were completed. A second official investigation in 1911 came to the same conclusion as in 1898: the Maine had sunk as the result of a mine. However, an investigation led by Admiral Hyman Rickover concluded in 1976 that the explosions were caused by a coal-bunker fire adjacent to one of the ship’s magazines. Disagreement and speculation on the cause of the sinking continues to this day.

Learn more about the sinking of the USS Maine and the Spanish-American War on You can also find some additional records from the Spanish-American War on Fold3, including the Service Record Index and compiled service records for Florida.

Theodore Roosevelt Dies: January 6, 1919

Theodore Roosevelt Dies: January 6, 1919

Theodore Roosevelt
On January 6, 1919, around four in the morning, Theodore Roosevelt quietly died in his sleep at home in New York after a battle with chronic illness that had rapidly worsened in the final months of his life. He was 60 years old.

Roosevelt’s funeral, held two days later, on January 8th, was a small, quiet affair. A short prayer service was held in the family home. Next came the funeral, which took place at a nearby church. Only 500 people were allowed to attend, and there was no music or eulogy. The mourners then followed the casket to the cemetery, where he was interred after the firing of three volleys and the playing of taps. His wife Edith attended neither the funeral nor the burial, instead mourning at home. Two of Roosevelt’s sons, Kermit and Ted, were also absent, as they were still serving overseas in the military.

Church where T. Roosevelt's funeral was held
The nation was largely shocked by Roosevelt’s death. He had kept his illnesses quiet and displayed as charismatic and capable a public face as ever. Once the newspapers learned of his protracted illnesses prior to death, many of them attributed his declining health to grief over the death of his son Quentin, who had been killed during the war. Numerous editorials were published about his life and accomplishments, and though many acknowledged that Roosevelt had been a polarizing and controversial figure, nearly all commemorated him as a patriotic man, larger than life, who had—through skill and passion—achieved so much in so many arenas.

Though very few were allowed to attend his funeral, people honored the former president in other ways. President Wilson ordered the White House flag be flown at half-mast. Newspapers reported that stock exchanges would close and that Congress had adjourned early. The Boy Scouts planted trees in his honor, New York held a minute of silence, trains temporarily stopped running in Illinois as did streetcars in Chicago, some small businesses closed, and towns held their own memorial services.

T. Roosevelt's gravesite
Though Roosevelt had as many enemies as he did friends, he had an undeniable impact on the nation, living life so energetically that few could keep up with him. Observed vice president Thomas Marshall, “Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake, there would’ve been a fight.”

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