This Week In American History: December 25th - December 31st

This Week In American History: December 25th - December 31st

December 25

1776

During the American Revolution, Patriot General George Washington crossed the icy Delaware River with 5,400 troops, hoping to surprise a Hessian force celebrating Christmas at their winter quarters in Trenton, New Jersey. The unconventional attack came after several months of substantial defeats for Washington’s army that had resulted in the loss of New York City and other strategic points in the region. Washington’s men quickly overwhelmed the Germans’ defenses and surrounded the town. Although several hundred Hessians escaped, nearly 1,000 were captured at the cost of only four American lives.

1914

Just after midnight on Christmas morning during WW1, German troops stopped firing their weapons to begin singing Christmas carols. At daybreak, the soldiers approached the Allied lines, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. Seeing the Germans unarmed, The Allied soldiers shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings, sang carols and songs and even played a good-natured game of soccer. The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare.

  

1962

To Kill a Mockingbird, a film based on the 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Harper Lee, opened in theaters. The Great Depression-era story of racial injustice and the loss of childhood innocence is told from the perspective of a young Alabama girl named Scout Finch, played in the film by Mary Badham, who lives with her older brother Jem (Phillip Alford) and their widowed attorney father Atticus (Gregory Peck). The American Film Institute has rated Atticus Finch as the greatest movie hero of the 20th century, and in 1995 the United States National Film Registry picked To Kill a Mockingbird for preservation in the Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film.

December 26

1908

Texan Jack Johnson defeated Canadian Tommy Burns to become the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion. Admired for quick footwork and defensive acumen, he retained the heavyweight title from 1908 to 1915. Johnson's success in the ring made him an international celebrity, but he is known for his defiance of the early 20th-century “Jim Crow” racial conventions. Outspoken, independent, and conspicuous with his wealth, Johnson intentionally provoked those who did not celebrate his success. Most upsetting to the press and public opinion was the boxer's open challenge to society's disapproval of interracial dating and marriage with three of his marriages being to white women. He is considered the greatest defensive boxer in heavyweight history.

1944

During the brutal Battle of the Bulge, Adolf Hitler's last major offensive in WWII against the Western Front and the costliest ever fought by the U.S. Army with over 100,000 casualties, General Patton employed an audacious strategy where he wheels his 3rd Army a sharp 90 degrees in a counter thrust movement to break through the German lines and enter Bastogne, Belgium. He was able to relieve the besieged and exhausted Allied defenders of Bastogne and ultimately push the Germans east across the Rhine. Claiming victory of the battle on January 25, 1945, the Allies headed for Berlin. The war ended less than five months later with Germany’s May 7 surrender.

1946

Mobster Bugsy Siegel opened the glitzy Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Siegel and his New York “partners” had invested $1 million in a property already under construction by Billy Wilkerson, owner of some very popular nightclubs in the Sunset Strip. Convinced that Siegel wasn’t giving them a “square count,” it is widely believed that his partners in organized crime had him killed while he was reading the paper June 20, 1947, at Virginia Hill’s Beverly Hills mansion. Hill, Siegel's girlfriend, was in Paris, having flown the coop after a fight with Siegel 10 days prior. The crime remains unsolved to this day. Surviving a series of name and ownership changes, the hotel is known today as The Flamingo Las Vegas.

December 27

1900

Prohibitionist Carry Nation smashed up the bar at the Carey Hotel in Wichita, Kansas, causing several thousand dollars in damage and landing in jail. Nation, who was released shortly after the incident, became famous for carrying a hatchet and wrecking saloons as part of her anti-alcohol crusade. Her disdain for spirits resulted from her first husband dying from alcoholism and leaving her with a young child. Upon marrying a preacher and lawyer, she became involved with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The WCTU was founded in 1874 by women “concerned about the problems alcohol was causing their families and society.” At the time, women lacked many of the same rights as men and their lives could be ruined if their husbands drank too much.

1932

At the height of the Great Depression, thousands turn out for the opening of Radio City Music Hall, a magnificent Art Deco theater in New York City. The brainchild of billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who decided to make the theater the cornerstone of the Rockefeller Complex he was building in a formerly derelict neighborhood in midtown Manhattan, Radio City Music Hall was designed as a palace for the people, a place of beauty where ordinary people could see high-quality entertainment. n its first four decades, Radio City Music Hall alternated as a first-run movie theater and a site for gala stage shows. More than 700 films have premiered at Radio City Music Hall since 1933. In the late 1970s, the theater changed its format and began staging concerts by popular music artists. More than 300 million people have visited Radio City Music Hall.

1970

Hello, Dolly!, following the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, played by Carol Channing, a strong-willed matchmaker, as she travels to Yonkers, New York, to find a match for the miserly "well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder, closed at St James Theater NYC after 2844 performances. The musical won ten Tony Awards during its initial run and eventually became one of the most enduring musical theater hits, with four Broadway revivals and an Academy Award winning adaptation.

December 28

1832

Citing political differences with President Andrew Jackson and a desire to fill a vacant Senate seat in South Carolina, John C. Calhoun becomes the first vice president in U.S. history to resign the office. Born near Abbeville, South Carolina, in 1782, Calhoun was an advocate of states’ rights and a defender of the agrarian South against the industrial North. For the rest of his political life, Calhoun defended the slave-plantation system against the growing anti-slavery stance of the free states. In the early 1840s, while secretary of state under President John Tyler, he secured the admission of Texas into the Union as a slave state. Together with Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun dominated American political life in the first half of the 19th century.

1958

The Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants, 23-17, in overtime in the NFL Championship Game, a back-and-forth thriller that later is billed as "The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The nationally televised championship, the league's first overtime contest, is watched by 45 million viewers and fuels the NFL's meteoric rise in popularity. The star of the game was Colts quarterback and future Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas, who completed 26 of 40 passes for 349 yards and a touchdown—impressive statistics in the pre-Super Bowl era. The game featured 17 future Hall of Famers, including Giants running back Frank Gifford and assistant coach Vince Lombardi.

1973

President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law. The act, which Nixon called for the previous year, is considered one of the most significant and influential environmental laws in American history. Among other things, it mandated that the federal government keep a list of all species in need of protection, prohibited federal agencies from jeopardizing such species or their habitats, and empowered the government to do more to protect wildlife. In its first 30 years, less than one percent of the plants and animals added to the Endangered Species List went extinct, while more than 100 showed a 90 percent recovery rate. In 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Bald Eagle from the federal endangered species list.

December 29

1835

The Treaty of New Echota was signed in New Echota, Georgia, by officials of the United States government and representatives of a minority Cherokee political faction, the Treaty Party. The treaty established terms for the Cherokee Nation to cede its territory in the southeast and move west to the Indian Territory. Although the treaty was not approved by the Cherokee National Council nor signed by Principal Chief John Ross, it was amended and ratified in March 1836, and became the legal basis for the forcible removal known as the Trail of Tears.

1845

Texas was admitted into the United States as the 28th state. After gaining independence from Spain in the 1820s, Mexico welcomed foreign settlers to sparsely populated Texas, and a large group of Americans led by Stephen F. Austin settled along the Brazos River. However, the Mexican government's attempts to control the region lead to a rebellion. In March 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico. The citizens of the independent Republic of Texas elected Sam Houston president but also endorsed the entrance of Texas into the Union. In 1844, Congress finally agreed to annex Texas. Texas entered the United States as a slave state, broadening the irrepressible differences in the United States over the issue of slavery and setting off the Mexican-American War.

1982

American college football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant ended his career with the University of Alabama, holding the record for the most wins (323) as a head coach in collegiate football history. Considered by many to be the greatest college football coach of all time, Bryant amassed six national championships and thirteen conference championships during his 25 years at Alabama. He tragically died of a heart-attack the following January and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, by President Ronald Reagan. A moment of silence was held before Super Bowl XVII, played four days after Bryant's death.

December 30

1853

1853
James Gadsden, the U.S. minister to Mexico, and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the president of Mexico, signed the Gadsden Purchase in Mexico City. The treaty settled the dispute over the location of the Mexican border west of El Paso, Texas, and established the final boundaries of the southern United States. For the price of $15 million, later reduced to $10 million, the United States acquired approximately 30,000 square miles of land in what is now southern New Mexico and Arizona. More land was needed for the construction of a southern transcontinental railroad to begin, and this purchase provided that land.

1862

The U.S.S. Monitor sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Just nine months earlier, the ship had been part of a revolution in naval warfare when the ironclad dueled to a standstill with the C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimack) off Hampton Roads, Virginia, in one of the most famous naval battles in American history—the first time two ironclads faced each other in a naval engagement. Although the Monitor’s service was brief, it signaled a new era in naval combat. The Virginia’s arrival off Hampton Roads terrified the U.S. Navy, but the Monitor leveled the playing field. Both sides had ironclads, and the advantage would go to the side that could build more of them. Northern industry would win that battle for the Union.

1936

At 8 p.m., in one of the first sit-down strikes in the United States, autoworkers occupied the General Motors Fisher Body Plant Number One in Flint, Michigan. The autoworkers were striking to win recognition of the United Auto Workers (UAW) as the only bargaining agent for GM’s workers; they also wanted to make the company stop sending work to non-union plants and to establish a fair minimum wage scale, a grievance system and a set of procedures that would help protect assembly-line workers from injury. In all, the strike lasted 44 days. The automaker signed an agreement with the UAW in February. Among other things, the workers were given a 5 percent raise and permission to speak in the lunchroom.

December 31

1879

In the first public demonstration of his incandescent lightbulb, American inventor Thomas Alva Edison lit up a street in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Although the first incandescent lamp had been produced 40 years earlier, no inventor had been able to come up with a practical design until Edison embraced the challenge in the late 1870s. After countless tests, he developed a high-resistance carbon-thread filament that burned steadily for hours and an electric generator sophisticated enough to power a large lighting system.

1972

Roberto Clemente was killed along with four others when the cargo plane in which he is traveling crashes off the coast of Puerto Rico. Clemente was on his way to deliver relief supplies to Nicaragua following a devastating earthquake there a week earlier. At the end of September, Clemente had gotten his 3,000th hit in the final game of the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a hero in his native Puerto Rico, where he spent much of the off-season doing charity work. In 1973, Clemente was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2002, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

1999

The United States, in accordance with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, officially handed over control of the Panama Canal, putting the strategic waterway into Panamanian hands for the first time. The treaty, signed in 1977 and narrowly ratified by the U.S. Senate, gave America the ongoing right to defend the canal against any threats to its neutrality. Crowds of Panamanians celebrated the transfer of the 50-mile canal, which links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and officially opened when the SS Arcon sailed through on August 15, 1914. Since then, over one million ships have used the canal.

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