Army Rangers Take Pointe-du-Hoc on D-Day: June 6, 1944

Army Rangers Take Pointe-du-Hoc on D-Day: June 6, 1944

Normandy landings map
During the Normandy landings of D-Day during World War II, a force of Army Rangers scaled the sheer cliffs of Point-du-Hoc to the west of Omaha Beach and disabled the heavy German artillery there, making them the first American forces to accomplish their mission on D-Day.

In the lead up to D-Day, the Allies were aware of a group of 155mm German cannon positioned on a promontory called Point-du-Hoc, which was located between the planned landing sites of Omaha and Utah beaches. Although the guns could pose a threat to American troops landing on those two beaches, the main worry was the potential damage they could cause to the Allied transport ships offshore during the landings.

With this threat in mind, the Army Rangers were given the mission of disabling the guns at Pointe-du-Hoc early on the morning of D-Day. In preparation, Allied bombers dropped explosives on Pointe-du-Hoc in the months prior to the landings, and the bombings were renewed the morning of D-Day, this time followed by naval bombardment.

Photo of one of the places Rangers scaled Pointe-du-Hoc; taken a couple days after D-Day

Companies D, E, and F of the 2nd Rangers were assigned to ascend the cliffs of Point-du-Hoc, while the remaining Rangers were given other objectives to help with the taking of the promontory. The Rangers faced difficulties the morning of D-Day before they even landed on the beach, which put them about 40 minutes behind schedule.

As Companies D, E, and F neared and then hit the beach, they had to face German fire from above, and the hail of bullets continued as the Rangers attempted with varying levels of success to deploy the equipment necessary to scale the cliffs, including rocket-propelled ropes with grapnels as well as ladders. Each group of Rangers used whatever methods they could to get to the top of the cliff, and once there, they faced the German defenders while trying to find the 155mm guns.

Difficulties of Rangers taking Pointe-du-Hoc
When the Rangers reached the emplacements where the big guns were supposed to be, they found that the guns had been moved and replaced with telegraph poles to fool Allied surveillance. So the Rangers moved on to their next objective of securing a nearby road to prevent German reinforcements from reaching Omaha Beach.

As they worked to achieve this, two groups of rangers discovered the missing guns about a mile from where they were supposed to be and disabled them. This meant the Rangers’ primary objective was achieved by 9 a.m., though their work was far from over, as they were forced to hold Pointe-du-hoc until June 8, when the relief column came to their aid.

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Lindbergh Completes His Transatlantic Flight:
May 21, 1927

Lindbergh Completes His Transatlantic Flight: May 21, 1927

Lindbergh Reaches Paris
On May 21, 1927, at 10:22 p.m. local time, 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh and his silver monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, landed in Paris, France, making him the first aviator to successfully fly nonstop across the Atlantic from New York to Paris.

A former barnstormer, Army Air Service cadet, and airmail pilot, Lindbergh decided to try to win the Orteig Prize—$25,000 to the first aviator to fly nonstop from New York to Paris or vice versa. Many well-known pilots of the day had attempted the flight, but all previous attempts had ended in accident or death.

Lindbergh, a virtually unknown pilot at the time, had a hard time finding a company to sell him a plane in which to make the journey, even after he found backers in St. Louis to fund him. Eventually, he found Ryan Airlines, based out of San Diego, which would custom-build him a plane to his exact specifications—a light-weight, one-seat, single-engine monoplane with only the bare essentials to allow for extra fuel.

Map of Lindbergh's transatlantic flight

The plane, named the Spirit of St. Louis, was completed in a mere 60 days, and after stopping in St. Louis, Lindbergh flew on to New York to make his attempt. Initially, the flight was postponed due to poor weather, but as soon as it began to clear up, Lindbergh departed on May 20 at 7:52 a.m. The trip took him 33 ½ hours, and though he faced challenges like ice building up on his plane, Lindbergh’s greatest struggle was staying awake and alert over the long flight.

From the moment he touched down, Lindberg became an instant celebrity. Tens of thousands (and perhaps upwards of 100,000) French greeted him at the airport, and an estimated 4 million people packed the streets during his parade in New York City. 30 million Americans (about a quarter of the population at the time) came to see him as he toured the Spirit of St. Louis around the country in the months that followed. He even received the Medal of Honor for his landmark flight.

Cartoon about how Lindbergh closed the distance between US and France with his flight
Lindbergh used his immense fame to promote the nascent aviation industry, and though he would lose favor in later years because of his controversial political and personal views, for a time he was easily one of the most famous people in the world.

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Death of FDR: April 12, 1945

Death of FDR: April 12, 1945

Death of FDR
On April 12, 1945, just months into his fourth term, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office at the age of 63 after he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage (stroke) while visiting Warm Springs, Georgia.

Stricken by polio at age 39, Roosevelt was largely confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. However, this didn’t stop him from becoming governor of New York or, later, president of the United States, winning four consecutive terms spanning the Great Depression and World War II.

Although Roosevelt struggled with his health off and on for many years, it began to seriously decline about a year before his death. By 1944, Roosevelt showed symptoms of congestive heart failure, though the information was kept from the public.

Photos of FDR throughout his life

Roosevelt began his fourth term in January 1945, and a few days later he left for a conference at Yalta with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. When he returned a month later, he addressed Congress, sitting down during the speech for the first time in his presidency.

Beset by a poor appetite, lack of strength, and weight loss, in late March 1945 Roosevelt visited Warm Springs, Georgia, his favorite retreat, to try to recoup his health. He was there for about two weeks, and at first, Roosevelt’s health seemed to rebound. But on the afternoon of April 12, he complained of a terrible headache and fell unconscious. He never woke up and two hours later was pronounced dead at 3:35 p.m.

Roosevelt's body moved to funeral train at Warm Springs
His wife, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, came to Warm Springs from Washington DC following Vice President Harry Truman‘s oath of office, and the deceased president’s body was put on a train to DC on the 13th. An estimated 2 million people lined the tracks as the train went by to mourn the president. Following the funeral at the White House, Roosevelt’s body was interred at his family home in Hyde Park, New York, on the 15th.

The president’s death came as a shock to Americans, who hadn’t been aware of Roosevelt’s poor health, though after his death, stories of his illnesses began to circulate. Many sincerely mourned Roosevelt’s passing, as he had led the country through the Great Depression and all but the end of World War II and was seen by many as a charismatic and confident leader, despite his sometimes controversial policies.

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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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