This Week In American History: April 24th - April 30th

April 24

1800

President John Adams approved legislation to appropriate $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress,” thus establishing the Library of Congress. The first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801 and were stored in the U.S. Capitol, the library’s first home. Over time, two devastating fires have destroyed major portions of the Library of Congress, including two thirds of the tomes donated by Thomas Jefferson. Today, the collection, housed in three enormous buildings in Washington, contains more than 17 million books, as well as millions of maps, manuscripts, photographs, films, audio and video recordings, prints, drawings and digital materials.

1980

With the Iran Hostage Crisis stretching into its sixth month and all diplomatic appeals to the Iranian government ending in failure, President Jimmy Carter ordered Operation Eagle Claw, a military mission as a last ditch attempt to save the hostages. During the operation, three of eight helicopters failed, crippling the crucial airborne plans. The mission was then canceled at the staging area in Iran, but during the withdrawal one of the retreating helicopters collided with one of six C-130 transport planes, killing eight service members and injuring five. The next day, a somber Jimmy Carter gave a press conference in which he took full responsibility for the tragedy. The 52 hostages were not released for another 270 days.

1982

Hollywood royalty, Oscar-winning actress and anti-war activist, Jane Fonda became an exercise guru when she released Workout, the first of her many bestselling aerobics tapes. A ballet enthusiast, Fonda opened her first exercise studio in 1979, which soon followed with best-selling books and videos. Fonda not only sparked the aerobics trend of the late 1970s and 1980s–she also popularized the concept of working out for women in general. For the first time, millions of women (and a few men) were exercising together in groups, doing leg lifts, side bends and lifting dumbbells to the beat of peppy music. Aerobics also launched a fashion craze, with neon spandex, leg-warmers and leotards becoming ubiquitous among health-conscious women.

April 25

1947

President Harry S. Truman officially opened the first white House bowling alley. Truman did not use the alley much himself, but supported a group of White House employees in forming a White House Bowling League in 1950. Teams included Secret Service agents, staff, secretaries, switchboard operators and groundskeepers. Eisenhower closed the alley in 1955 and turned it into a mimeograph room. Later, another alley was opened next door in the Old Executive Office Building (now the Eisenhower Building), which President Johnson and his wife Lady Bird used frequently. Nixon used that second bowling alley until he had an additional one-lane alley installed underground directly beneath the North Portico entrance of the White House.

1974

The NFL adopted a new overtime rule for regular-season games to prevent tie games. The rule change came as part of sweeping effort to improve the action and tempo of games. The new overtime rule mandated teams play an extra period if the score was tied at the end of regulation play. In overtime, the first team to score was declared the winner. If the score was still tied after the overtime, the game resulted in a tie. The NFL has since modified the overtime rule. The sudden-death NFL overtime format used today was established in 2010. It gives both teams the chance to possess the ball at least once in overtime unless — and this is key — the team that receives the overtime kickoff scores a touchdown on its first possession. NFL overtime rules continue to be highly contested and debated.

1990

The crew of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery placed the Hubble Space Telescope, a long-term space-based observatory, into a low orbit around Earth. The space telescope, conceived in the 1940s, designed in the 1970s, and built in the 1980s, was designed to give astronomers an unparalleled view of the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe. Free of atmospheric distortions, Hubble has a resolution 10 times that of ground-based observatories. About the size of a bus, the telescope is solar-powered and orbits Earth once every 97 minutes. Hubble has been used to record a comet’s collision with Jupiter, provide a direct look at the surface of Pluto, view distant galaxies, gas clouds and black holes, and see billions of years into the universe’s past.

April 26

1954

The Salk polio vaccine field trials, involving 1.8 million children, began at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia. Children in the United States, Canada and Finland participated in the trials, which used for the first time the now-standard double-blind method, whereby neither the patient nor attending doctor knew if the inoculation was the vaccine or a placebo. One year later, researchers announced the vaccine was safe and effective. In the ensuing decades, polio vaccines would all but wipe out the highly contagious disease in the Western Hemisphere. Polio is an ancient infectious disease caused by a virus. It occurs most commonly in children and can result in paralysis.

1977

Studio 54 opens at 254 West 54th Street in New York City and soon becomes the global epicenter of the disco craze and the most famous nightclub in the world. The impresarios behind Studio 54 were Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, college roommates at Syracuse University who became famous for openly and shamelessly excluding all but the most chic, famous or beautiful patrons from their establishment. Patrons included Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Margaret Thatcher, Jackie O, Grace Jones, Donna Summer and the who's who of the time. The party lasted until the closing-night party on February 4, 1980—a party called, appropriately enough, “The End of Modern-day Gomorrah.”

1984

President Ronald Reagan arrived in China for a diplomatic meeting with Chinese President Li Xiannian. The trip marked the third time a U.S. president had traveled to China since President Richard Nixon's historic trip in 1972 (Gerald Ford visited in 1975). Reagan’s trip highlighted his administration’s desire to improve diplomacy with China in light of the growing economic relationship between the two nations. Other topics of discussion between the two leaders over the course of the six-day trip included the development of commercial nuclear power in China and China’s displeasure with continuing U.S. support for nationalists in Taiwan.

April 27

1956

World heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano retired from boxing at age 31, wanting to spend more time with his family. Marciano ended his career as the only heavyweight champion with a perfect record–49 wins in 49 professional bouts, with 43 knockouts. Nicknamed the “Brockton Blockbuster," Marciano reportedly began boxing as a way to get out of kitchen duty and other less-than-desirable jobs after being drafted into the US Army. He captured the heavyweight crown in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952, when he scored a knockout against defending champ Jersey Joe Walcott in the 13th round. He would defend his title six times before retiring. Marciano died in a small-plane crash in Iowa on August 31, 1969.

1987

The US Justice and State departments jointly announced Austrian leader, and former secretary-general of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim would henceforth be barred from entering the United States, acting on evidence that he had participated in Nazi war crimes during World War II and had hidden his role in seeking high political office. It marked the first time that a head of state had been put on a U.S. immigration non-entry list. Waldheim called the allegations against him “pure lies and malicious acts,” although he admitted that he had known about German reprisals against Greek and Yugoslav partisans. “Yes, I knew,” he said. “I was horrified. But what could I do? I had either to continue to serve or be executed.”

2009

Struggling American auto giant General Motors (GM) announced plans to discontinue production of its more than 80-year-old Pontiac brand. Pontiac’s origins date back to the Oakland Motor Car, which was founded in 1907 in Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac was initially known for making sedans; however, by the 1960s it had gained acclaim for its fast, sporty “muscle cars,” including the GTO, the Firebird and the Trans Am. The GTO, which was developed by auto industry maverick John DeLorean, was named after a Ferarri coupe, the Gran Turismo Omologato. Famous Trans Ams include Burt Reynold's black Trans Am in “Smokey and the Bandit" and David Hasselhoff's Trans Am KITT, a talking car with artificial intelligence in "Knight Rider."

April 28

1941

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that under the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act, African Americans were entitled to equal passenger accommodations on the nation’s railroads. Rep. Arthur Mitchell of Illinois, the first black member of Congress to be elected as a Democrat, co-argued his own suit before the court. Mitchell brought forth his suit in response to being ordered by an Illinois Central conductor to vacate his first-class air-conditioned Pullman sleeper compartment while traveling from Chicago to Hot Springs, Ark., shortly after the train left Memphis, Tenn., and to move to a second-class segregated car for the remainder of his trip, which continued on the Rock Island line.

1967

Boxing champion Muhammed Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army and was immediately stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali, a Muslim, cited religious reasons for his decision to forgo military service. He was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970, knocking out Jerry Quarry. On March 8, 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” and lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional boxing career. On June 28 of that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for evading the draft.

1970

President Richard Nixon gave his formal authorization to commit U.S. combat troops, in cooperation with South Vietnamese units, against communist troop sanctuaries in Cambodia. Secretary of State William Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird had continually argued for a downsizing of the U.S. effort in Vietnam, but Nixon left them and other advisors out of the decision, which essentially amounted to an invasion of Cambodia. The incursion angered many in Congress, who felt that Nixon was illegally widening the war; this resulted in a series of congressional resolutions and legislative initiatives that would severely limit the executive power of the president.

April 29

   

1789

The House Committee on Elections, a panel created only 16 days earlier, reported its first contested election case, thereby establishing a precedent for procedures that have largely remained in place through the present day. First, the committee would gather evidence and render a judgment. Then the House would decide whether more evidence was needed and, if not, vote on the committee’s report. South Carolina’s David Ramsay disputed William Loughton Smith’s eligibility to represent Charleston in the House under the Constitution’s seven-year citizenship requirement. In the November election, Smith had soundly won the election, but Ramsey claimed Smith's not living in the country during its founding rendered him a non-citizen. The committee upheld the Smith's win.

1945

The U.S. Seventh Army’s 45th Infantry Division liberated Dachau, the first concentration camp established by Germany’s Nazi regime. A major Dachau sub-camp was liberated the same day by the 42nd Rainbow Division. As the Americans entered Dachau, they encountered unimaginable evil and horrible conditions. Established five weeks after Adolf Hitler took power as German chancellor in 1933, Dachau was located about 10 miles northwest of Munich and functioned predominantly as a forced labor camp. In the course of Dachau’s history, at least 160,000 prisoners passed through the main camp, and 90,000 through the sub-camps. Incomplete records indicate that at least 32,000 of the inmates perished at Dachau, but countless more were shipped to camps elsewhere.

2004

The World War II Memorial opened in Washington D.C. to thousands of visitors, providing overdue recognition for the 16 million U.S. men and women who served in the war. The memorial is located on 7.4 acres on the former site of the Rainbow Pool at the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Capitol dome is seen to the east, and Arlington Cemetery is just across the Potomac River to the west. Only a fraction of the 16 million Americans who served in the war would ever see it. Four million World War II veterans were living at the time, with more than 1,100 passing every day, according to government records.

April 30

1789

George Washington was sworn in as the first American president and delivers the first inaugural speech at Federal Hall in New York City. Elements of the ceremony set tradition; presidential inaugurations have deviated little in the two centuries since Washington’s inauguration. Observers noted that Washington appeared as if he would have preferred facing cannon and musket fire to taking the political helm of the country. After delivering his address, Washington walked up Broadway with a group of legislators and local political leaders to pray at St. Paul’s Chapel. Later, he made the humble and astute observation that his presidency, and the nation itself, was an experiment.

1939

The New York World’s Fair opened in New York City. The opening ceremony, which featured speeches by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and New York Governor Herbert Lehman, ushered in the first day of television broadcasting in New York. Spanning 1,200 acres at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, the fairground was marked by two imposing structures—the “Perisphere” and the “Trylon”—and exhibited such new technology as FM radio, robotics, fluorescent lighting and a crude fax machine. Sixty-three nations participated in the fair, which enjoyed large crowds before the outbreak of World War II interrupted many of its scheduled events.

1993

Top women’s tennis player Monica Seles was stabbed by Gunter Parche, a deranged fan of German tennis star Steffi Graf, during a match in Hamburg. The assailant apparently hoped that by injuring Seles his idol Graf would be able to regain her No. 1 ranking. Seles, who became a US citizen and continued to play for the US in 1994, had won 8 Grand Slams at the time of the attack, but was left with emotional scars that kept her from playing for two more years. She would go onto win the Australian Open in 1996, her final Grand Slam, while her attacker received a suspended sentence and would not be seriously punished for the stabbing. The attack led to greater distance between fans and players along with increased security during tennis events.