This Week In American History: January 8th - January 14th

January 8

1978

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, took his place on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. A native of Long Island, New York, Milk served in the U.S. Navy before working at a Wall Street investment firm. Keeping his homosexuality a secret at first, Milk became more openly gay through his exposure to New York City’s bohemian theater scene. After moving to San Francisco in the early 1970s, Milk established himself as a leading political activist for the gay community. Winning a seat on the city’s Board of Supervisors, he emerged as one of the country’s preeminent openly gay elected officials, spearheading an important anti-discrimination measure. Milk was murdered in November 1978 by a former colleague, Dan White.

2002

President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law. The sweeping update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 created new standards and goals for the nation’s public schools and implemented tough corrective measures for schools that failed to meet them. Today, it is largely regarded as a failed experiment. In 2015, NCLB was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which retained parts of the old law but attempted to make it less punitive to underperforming schools. Today, NCLB is often cited as an overly harsh approach to education reform, while many Americans simply remember it as the reason they had to take so many standardized tests.

2011

Gabrielle Giffords, a U.S. congresswoman from Arizona, was shot at point-blank range and critically injured when 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner goes on a shooting spree during a constituents meeting held by the congresswoman outside a Tucson-area supermarket. Six people died in the attack and another 13, including Giffords, were wounded. By May, with intense rehabilitation, Giffords was able relearn how to walk and talk enough to watch the launch of the final flight of space shuttle Endeavour, commanded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelley. In 2012, Giffords resigned from Congress in order to concentrate on her continuing recovery.

January 9

1776

Writer Thomas Paine published his pamphlet “Common Sense,” setting forth his arguments in favor of American independence. Originally published anonymously, “Common Sense” advocated independence for the American colonies from Britain and is considered one of the most influential pamphlets in American history. Credited with uniting average citizens and political leaders behind the idea of independence, “Common Sense” played a remarkable role in transforming a colonial squabble into the American Revolution.

1861

A Union merchant ship, the Star of the West, was fired upon as it tried to deliver supplies to Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Two cannon shots roared from a South Carolina battery on Morris Island. They came from gunner George E. Haynsworth, a cadet at The Citadel in Charleston. The shots represented the opening salvo of the war. This incident was the first time shots were exchanged between North and South and resulted in strong talk on both sides, but stopped short of war. The standoff at Fort Sumter continued until the Confederates attacked in April, triggering the Civil War.

2007

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone—a touchscreen mobile phone with an iPod, camera and Web-browsing capabilities, among other features—at the Macworld convention in San Francisco. Time magazine named the sleek, 4.8-ounce device, originally available in a 4GB, $499 model and an 8GB, $599 model, its invention of the year. The iPhone helped turned Apple, which Jobs co-founded with his friend Stephen Wozniak in California in 1976, into one of the planet’s most valuable corporations. The iPhone joined a list of innovative Apple products, including the Macintosh (launched in 1984, it was one of the first personal computers to feature a graphical user interface, which allowed people to navigate by pointing and clicking a mouse rather than typing commands) and the iPod portable music player (launched in 2001), that became part of everyday modern life.

January 10

1901

A drilling derrick at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas, produced an enormous gusher of crude oil, coating the landscape for hundreds of feet and signaling the advent of the American oil industry. The geyser was discovered at a depth of over 1,000 feet, flowed at an initial rate of approximately 100,000 barrels a day and took nine days to cap. Following the discovery, petroleum, which until that time had been used in the U.S. primarily as a lubricant and in kerosene for lamps, would become the main fuel source for new inventions such as cars and airplanes; coal-powered forms of transportation including ships and trains would also convert to the liquid fuel.

1999

"The Sopranos," starring James Gandolfini as mobster Tony Soprano, debuted on HBO. The show follows Tony and the difficulties he goes through trying to balance his family life with his role as the leader of a criminal organization. The Sopranos is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time. The series won a multitude of awards, including Peabody Awards, Primetime Emmy Awards, and Golden Globe Awards. Several members of the show's cast and crew were largely unknown to the public but have since had successful careers. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America named The Sopranos the best-written TV series of all time.

2000

In one of the biggest media mergers in history, America Online Inc. announced plans to acquire Time Warner Inc. for some $182 billion in stock and debt. The result was a $350 billion mega-corporation, AOL Time Warner, which held dominant positions in every type of media, including music, publishing, news, entertainment, cable and the Internet. The potential windfall promised by the plan to sell Time Warner content through the AOL network never materialized, and when the Internet bubble burst in 2001, the company’s losses reached record proportions. In 2002, as investors pulled out en masse of many Internet-related stocks, AOL Time Warner reported a quarterly loss of $54 billion, the largest ever for a U.S. company.

January 11

1908

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt declared the massive Grand Canyon in northwestern Arizona a national monument. He declared, “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.” Congress did not officially outlaw private development in the Grand Canyon until 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Grand Canyon National Park Act. Today, more than 5 million people visit the canyon each year.

1935

In the first flight of its kind, American Amelia Earhart departed Wheeler Field in Honolulu, Hawaii, on a solo flight to North America. Hawaiian commercial interests offered a $10,000 award to whoever accomplished the flight first. The next day, after traveling 2,400 miles in 18 hours, she safely landed at Oakland Airport in Oakland, California. She was the first person to fly solo between Hawaii and the continental United States. Two years after her Hawaii to California flight, she attempted with navigator Frederick J. Noonan to fly around the world, but her plane was lost on July 2, 1937, somewhere between New Guinea and Howland Island in the South Pacific. Radio operators picked up a signal that she was low on fuel—the last trace the world would ever know of Amelia Earhart.

  

1978

Toni Morrison won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon. The award brought the writer national attention for the first time. She would continue to release critically acclaimed masterpieces, including Tar Baby (1981), Beloved (1987) and Jazz (1992), before winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She was the first African American to win the award, as well as the first American woman to win in more than 50 years.

January 12

1962

The United States Air Force launched Operation Ranch Hand, a “modern technological area-denial technique” designed to expose the roads and trails used by the Viet Cong. Flying C-123 Providers, U.S. personnel dumped an estimated 19 million gallons of defoliating herbicides over 10-20% of Vietnam and parts of Laos between 1962-1971. Agent Orange–named for the color of its metal containers–was the most frequently used defoliating herbicide. The operation succeeded in killing vegetation, but not in stopping the Viet Cong. The use of these agents was controversial, both during and after the war, because of the questions about long-term ecological impacts and the effect on humans who either handled or were sprayed by the chemicals.

1969

At the Orange Bowl in Miami, the New York Jets of the American Football League defeaed the NFL's Baltimore Colts, 16-7, in Super Bowl III—a result considered one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Days earlier, Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed a victory by New York, an 18-point underdog. Before Super Bowl III, an NFL coach said, "Namath plays his first pro football game today." But the Colts, who had a 15-1 record entering the game, trailed 16-0 after three quarters. Namath, a four-year-veteran and former University of Alabama star, completed 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

1981

Soap opera "Dynasty," produced by Aaron Spelling and starring John Forsythe, Linda Evans and Joan Collins, premiered on ABC-TV. Over the next eight years, the Carringtons, a rich Denver oil clan, and another wealthy family, the Colbys, would form the center of the campy, glamorous universe that was Dynasty. Envisioned as bitter rivals, in the style of the Montagues and Capulets of Romeo and Juliet, the two families intermarried and plotted against each other with equal enthusiasm. By the end of the 1982-83 season, Dynasty was fifth in the top-rated programs; it climbed to third place in 1983-84 and grabbed the number one spot in 1984-85. Its success spawned a short-lived spin-off, Dynasty II: The Colbys, and an entire line of licensed products such as clothing, bedding and perfume.

January 13

1966

President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the first African American cabinet member, making Robert C. Weaver head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the agency that develops and implements national housing policy and enforces fair housing laws. In keeping with his vision for a Great Society, Johnson sought to improve race relations and eliminate urban blight. As many of the country’s African Americans lived in run-down inner-city areas, appointing Weaver was an attempt to show his African American constituency that he meant business on both counts.

1982

An Air Florida Boeing 737-222 plunged into the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., killing 78 people. The crash, caused by bad weather, took place only two miles from the White House. The flight took off from Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, with 74 passengers and 5 crew members on board. Due to ice, the flight was delayed 45 minutes on the runway. Not wanting to further delay the flight, the pilot, Larry Wheaton, did not return for more de-icing, and worse, failed to turn on the plane’s own de-icing system. The plane crashed into the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River, less than a mile away from the runway.

1995

America3, an all-female sailing team, won the first race of the America’s Cup defender trials, easily beating Team Dennis Conner by a little more than a minute. The team is the sport's first all-women team to compete in the 144-year history of the America’s Cup, the world's oldest continually contested sporting trophy. The Cup represents the pinnacle of international sailing yacht competition. Pronounced "America Cubed," the team was the brainchild of Bill Koch, a millionaire businessman and skipper of the 1992 America’s Cup-winning vessel. Koch wanted to pique American interest in the sport and field a competitive sailing team. So, he assembled a 23-member team that included female sailors, rowers and professional weightlifters to take on Conner’s team in the defender trials. However, America3 team lost the defender trials to Conner’s team.

January 14

1954

Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio. It was the ultimate All-American romance: the tall, handsome hero of the country’s national pastime captures the heart of the beautiful, glamorous Hollywood star. But the brief, volatile marriage barely got past the honeymoon before cracks began to show in its brilliant veneer and they divorced just 274 days after they were married. However, the two would remain close. When the 36-year-old Monroe died of a drug overdose on August 5, 1962, DiMaggio arranged the funeral. For the next two decades, until his own death in 1999, he sent roses several times a week to her grave in Los Angeles.

 

1970

Diana Ross and the Supremes performed their final concert. They were the most successful American pop group of the 1960s—a group whose 12 #1 hits in the first full decade of the rock and roll era places them behind only Elvis and the Beatles in terms of chart dominance. They helped define the very sound of the 60s, but like fellow icons the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, they came apart in the first year of the 70s. The curtain closed for good on Diana Ross and the Supremes at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

  

1973

The Miami Dolphins achieved something no NFL team has repeated: a perfect season. The Dolphins held on to beat Washington 14-7 in Super Bowl VII, capping a 17-0 season despite a gaffe by kicker Garo Yepremian. With just over two minutes left, instead of going for it on fourth-and-4 in Washington territory, Don Shula had Yepremian attempt a 42-yard field goal. The kick was blocked, and Yepremian’s attempt to salvage the play resulted in a fumble, which cornerback Mike Bass returned 49 yards for a touchdown. The Dolphins were the first team to reach the Super Bowl with a perfect record. The second team to do so, the 2007 Patriots, rode an 18-game winning streak into Super Bowl XLII but lost that game, 17-14, to the New York Giants.