This Week In American History: July 23rd - July 29th

This Week In American History: July 23rd - July 29th

July 23

1885

Just after completing his memoirs, Civil War hero and former president Ulysses S. Grant dies of throat cancer. As supreme commander of Union forces, Grant led troops in a series of epic and bloody battles against Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Grant’s talent as political leader paled woefully in comparison to his military prowess. He was unable to stem the rampant corruption that plagued his administration. However, successes of Grant’s tenure include passage of the Enforcement Act in 1870, which temporarily curtailed the political influence of the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Civil War South, and the 1875 Civil Rights Act, which attempted to desegregate public places.

1984

21-year-old Vanessa Williams gave up her Miss America title, the first resignation in the pageant’s history, after Penthouse magazine announces plans to publish nude photos of the beauty queen. Williams originally made history on September 17, 1983, when she became the first Black woman to win the Miss America crown. Vanessa Williams rebounded from the Miss America scandal and went on to a successful entertainment career as an actress and recording artist, performing on Broadway as well as in movies and television and releasing a number of albums.

1996

The U.S women's gymnastics team won its first-ever team gold at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Nicknamed the "magnificent seven," the team was made up of seven talented teenage girls: Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominque Moceanu, Jaycie Phelps and Kerri Strug. Kerri Strug famously and bravely executed a perfect one-and-a-half twisting Yurchenko, landing solidly on two feet and a badly sprained ankle. She spun and hopped on one foot towards the judges’ table before collapsing in pain when her gold clinching score of 9.712 was announced.

July 24

1847

After 17 months and many miles of travel, Brigham Young led 148 pioneers unto Utah's Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Gazing over the parched earth of the remote location, Young declared, "This is the place," and the pioneers began preparation for the thousands of followers of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons) who would soon come. Seeking religious and political freedom, the Latter-day Saints began planning their great migration from the east after the murder of Joseph Smith, the Christian sect's founder and first leader. 

   

1911

American archeologist Hiram Bingham got his first look at the ruins of Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca settlement in Peru that is now one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a summer retreat for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century. For hundreds of years afterwards, its existence was a secret known only to the peasants living in the region. That all changed in the summer of 1911, when Bingham arrived with a small team of explorers to search for the famous “lost” cities of the Incas.

1998

Director Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan, was released in theaters across the United States. The film, which starred Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, was praised for its authentic portrayal of war and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. Saving Private Ryan centered around the fictional story of Captain John Miller (Hanks), and his band of seven rangers, who are sent on a mission to rescue Private James Francis Ryan (Damon), a paratrooper missing somewhere behind enemy lines. Ryan’s three older brothers have recently been killed in action, so military officials order Miller to find the young soldier and prevent a public-relations disaster.

July 25

1898

During the Spanish-American War U.S. forces launched their invasion of Puerto Rico, the approximately 110-mile-long, 35-mile-wide island that was one of Spain's two principal possessions in the Caribbean. With little resistance and only seven deaths, U.S. troops under General Nelson A. Miles were able to secure the island by mid-August. After the signing of an armistice with Spain, American troops raised the U.S. flag over the island, formalizing U.S. authority over its one million inhabitants. In December, the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Spanish-American War and officially approving the cession of Puerto Rico to the United States. 

1946

At Club 500 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis staged their first show as a comedy team. The team would last ten years to the day. Martin and Lewis were the hottest act in America during the early '50s, but they eventually split due to disillusionments over the partnership. According to Lewis, the two did not speak to each other privately for 20 years. The two men reconciled in September 1976, after Frank Sinatra orchestrated a surprise appearance by Martin on Lewis's annual Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, saying only "I have a friend who loves what you do every year." The brief reunion was big national news and, according to Lewis, the two spoke "every day after that."

 

1985

Rock Hudson, a quintessential tall, dark and handsome Hollywood leading man pf the 1950s and 1960s who made more than 60 films during his career, announced through a press release that he was suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). With that announcement, Hudson became the first major celebrity to go public with such a diagnosis. Hudson died on October 2, 1985, at age 59 in Beverly Hills, California. His death was credited with bringing attention to an epidemic that went on to kill millions of men, women and children of all backgrounds from around the world.

July 26

  

1775

The U.S. postal system was establish by the Scond Continental Congress, with Benjamin Franklin as its first postmaster general. Today, the US has over 40,000 post offices and the postal service delivers more than 200 billion pieces of mail each year to over 144 million homes and businesses in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the American Virgin Islands and American Samoa. The postal service is the nation’s largest civilian employer, with roughly 500,000 career workers. The postal service is a not-for-profit, self-supporting agency that covers the majority of its expenses through postage (stamp use in the United States started in 1847) and related products. The postal service gets the mail delivered, rain or shine, using everything from planes to mules.

1948

President Harry. S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981-ending discrimination in the military. Truman's order ended a long-standing practice of segregating Black soldiers and relegating them to more menial jobs. African Americans had been serving in the US military since the Revolutionary War, but were deployed in their largest numbers during WWII. Black WWII veterans were eligible for a free college education under the Servicemen Readjustment Act of 1944—the GI Bill—as well as other benefits, but most faced discrimination when trying to access their benefits. Executive Order 9981 stated : “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”

1990

PresidentGeorge H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the most sweeping affirmation of rights for the disabled in American history at the time, into law. Disability rights activists explicitly compared their struggle to the Civil Rights movement, arguing that without federal requirements in place, the disabled faced discrimination both as patrons of public spaces and businesses and in seeking employment. The eventual bill covered a wide range of physical and mental disabilities. The bulk of the act provides legal recourse against employers who discriminate against the disabled and set standards of access to public buildings and public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, etc.).

July 27

  

1981

Adam John Walsh, age 6, was abducted from a mall in Hollywood, Florida, and later found murdered. In the aftermath of the crime, Adam’s father, John Walsh became a founder in 1984 of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and in 1988 he became host of America’s Most Wanted, a show that has since helped law enforcement officials track down hundreds of fugitives. 25 years after Adam went missing, then-President George W. Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act into law, which created a national database of convicted child sex offenders, strengthened federal penalties for crimes against children and provided funding and training for law enforcement to fight crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children via the Internet.

1996
In Atlanta, Georgia, the XXVI Summer Olympiad was disrupted by the explosion of a nail-laden pipe bomb in Centennial Olympic Park. The bombing, which occurred during a free concert, killed a mother who had brought her daughter to hear the rock music and injured more than 100 others. While security guard Ricard Jewell was investigated, he was eventually cleared. The Olympic bombing was part of a series of subsequent bombings throughout Atlanta and Birmingham and traced to Eric Robert Rudolph. While he eluded the FBI for 5 years, he was captured in North Carolina and sentenced to four consecutive life terms as part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.

1999

At X Games V, Tony Hawk became the first skateboarder to land a "900," a 2.5 revolution aerial spin performed on a skateboard ramp. While airborne, the skateboarder makes two-and-a-half turns about their longitudinal axis, thereby facing down when coming down. It is considered one of skateboarding's most technically demanding tricks. One of the most successful vertical pro skateboarders in the world, he completed the trick after ten tries. In his book, the 900 was the last on the wishlist of tricks Hawk had written a decade earlier.

July 28

1868

Following its ratification by the necessary three-quarters of U.S. states, the 14th Amendment, granting citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including formerly enslaved people—was officially adopted into the U.S. Constitution. The amendment reaffirmed the privileges and rights of all citizens, and granted all these citizens the “equal protection of the laws.” The so-called “separate but equal” doctrine, was eventually used to justify segregating all public facilities, including railroad cars, restaurants, hospitals and schools. However, it was finally struck down by the Supreme Court in its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

1945

A United States military plane crashed into the Empire State Building killing 14 people. The freak accident was caused by heavy fog. The B-25 Mitchell bomber, with two pilots and one passenger aboard, was flying from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Air-traffic controllers instructed the plane to fly to Newark Airport instead. The crew was warned that the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the city at the time, was not visible. The bomber was flying relatively slowly and quite low, seeking better visibility, when it came upon the Chrysler Building in midtown. It swerved to avoid the building but the move sent it straight into the north side of the Empire State Building, near the 79th floor.

   

1978

National Lampoon’s Animal House, a movie spoof about 1960s college fraternities starring John Belushi, opens in U.S. theaters. Produced with an estimated budget of $3 million, Animal House became a huge, multi-million-dollar box-office hit, spawned a slew of cinematic imitations and became part of pop-culture history with such memorable lines as “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” Animal House marked the first film produced in affiliation with National Lampoon, a college magazine that was first published in 1970 and known for its dark humor.

July 29

   

1909

The newly formed General Motors Corporation (GM) acquired the country’s leading luxury automaker, the Cadillac Automobile Company, for $4.5 million. Cadillac was founded out of the ruins of automotive pioneer Henry Ford’s second failed company (his third effort, the Ford Motor Company, finally succeeded). Over the years, Cadillac maintained its reputation for luxury and innovation: In 1954, for example, it was the first automaker to provide power steering and automatic windshield washers as standard equipment on all its vehicles. Though the brand was knocked out of its top-of-the-market position in the 1980s by the German luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz, it sought to reestablish itself during the following decades, and remains a leader in the luxury car market.

1958

The U.S. Congress passed legislation establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a civilian agency responsible for coordinating America’s activities in space. NASA was created in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of its first satellite, Sputnik I, which caught Americans by surprise. The US prided itself on being at the forefront of technology, and, embarrassed, immediately began developing a response, signaling the start of the U.S.-Soviet space race. NASA has since sponsored space expeditions, both human and mechanical, that have yielded vital information about the solar system and universe. It has also launched numerous earth-orbiting satellites that have been instrumental in everything from weather forecasting to navigation to global communications.

1967

The Doors scored their first #1 hit with “Light My Fire”, which earned the top spot in the Billboard Hot 100. The hit transformed The Doors from cult favorites of the rock cognoscenti into international pop stars and avatars of the '60s counterculture. In the end, of course, Jim Morrison’s heavy drinking and drug use would lead to increasingly erratic behavior over the next four years and eventually take his life in July 1971. During that period, The Doors would follow up “Light My Fire” with a string of era-defining albums and songs, including “People Are Strange,” “Love Me Two Times” and “The End” in 1967; “Hello, I Love You” and “Touch Me” in 1968; and “L.A. Woman” and “Riders on the Storm” in 1971.

Back to blog