This Week In American History: March 10th - March 16th

This Week In American History: March 10th - March 16th

March 10


The first discernible speech was transmitted over a telephone system when inventor Alexander Graham Bell summons his assistant in another room by saying the now famous phrase, “Mr. Watson, come here; I want you.” Bell had received a comprehensive telephone patent just three days before. Alexander Graham Bell continued his experiments in communication, inventing the photophone, which transmitted speech by light rays, and the graphophone, which recorded sound. He continued to work with the deaf, including the educator Helen Keller, and used the royalties from his inventions to finance several organizations dedicated to the oral education of the deaf. He later served as president of the National Geographic Society.


James Earl Ray pled guilty to the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King and was sentenced to 99 years in jail. Three days later, Ray recanted his confession and claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy. He would unsuccessfully request his guilty plea be withdrawn and to be granted a trial for the rest of his life. Following capture after a short prison escape, Ray's sentence would increase to 100 years. He died April 1998 of medical complications.



The fledgling Warner Brothers (WB) television network aired the inaugural episode of what will become its first bona-fide hit show, Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sarah Michelle Gellar took on the lead role of Buffy Summers. Though ratings peaked during the second and third seasons, the show was consistently well reviewed by critics throughout its six-and-a-half-year run. As one of the edgiest offerings amid a growing WB line-up that included Dawson’s Creek, 7th Heaven and Felicity, Buffy’s success helped establish the network as a staple among teenage and young adult TV viewers.

March 11


Congress established the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help plan, design and prepare environmental and structural facilities for the U.S. Army. Made up of civilian workers, members of the Continental Army and French officers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers played an essential role in the critical Revolutionary War battles at Bunker Hill, Saratoga and Yorktown. Today, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is made up of more than 35,000 civilian and enlisted men and women. In recent years, the Corps has worked on rebuilding projects in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the reconstruction of the city of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.


One of the worst blizzards in American history struck the Northeast, killing more than 400 people and dumping as much as 55 inches of snow in some areas. New York City ground to a near halt in the face of massive snow drifts and powerful winds from the storm. At the time, approximately one in every four Americans lived in the area between Washington, D.C. and Maine, the area affected by the Great Blizzard of 1888. In the wake of the storm, officials realized the dangers of above-ground telegraph, water and gas lines and moved them below ground. In New York City, a similar determination was made about the trains, and within 10 years, construction began on an underground subway system that is still in use today.


Cops, a documentary-style television series that follows police officers and sheriff’s deputies as they go about their jobs, debuted on Fox. The debut episode of Cops featured the men and women of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department in Florida. The show aired over 1,000 episodes and filmed in 140 U.S. cities, as well as international locations including London and Hong Kong. With its widely recognized theme song, “Bad Boys” by the reggae group Inner Circle, Cops has spawned numerous imitators in addition to parody shows. The show ended its run as one of the longest-running shows in television history when it off the air in 2020.

March 12


Coca-Cola was sold in glass bottles for the first time by Joseph A. Biedenharn, owner of a candy store in Vicksburg, Mississippi. While only a fountain drink at the time, Biedenharn correctly determined that bottles could boost sales of Coke and he put the drink into reusable Hutchinson bottles. Asa Griggs Candler, owner of the brand rights to Coke, never believed bottling would be lucrative so he sold the bottling rights for $1. In 1915, the bottlers put out a call for a new design, one so distinctive that one could recognize it if it were in pieces on the ground or by feeling it in the dark. The winning design, produced by the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, gave the world the iconic contoured bottle we know today.


Eight days after his inauguration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his first national radio address—or “fireside chat”—broadcast directly from the White House. At the time, the U.S. was at the lowest point of the Great Depression, with between 25 and 33 percent of the workforce unemployed. The nation was worried, and Roosevelt’s address was designed to ease fears and to inspire confidence in his leadership. Roosevelt went on to deliver 30 more of these broadcasts between March 1933 and June 1944. They reached an astonishing number of American households, 90 percent of which owned a radio at the time.


In a dramatic speech to a joint session of Congress, President Harry S. Truman asked for U.S. assistance for Greece and Turkey to forestall communist domination of the two nations. Historians have often cited Truman’s address, which came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, as the official declaration of the Cold War. Truman’s address outlined the broad parameters of U.S. Cold War foreign policy: the Soviet Union was the center of all communist activity and movements throughout the world; communism could attack through outside invasion or internal subversion; and the United States needed to provide military and economic assistance to protect nations from communist aggression.

March 13


The United States Army began training dogs for the newly established War Dog Program, or “K-9 Corps.” When the country entered World War II in December 1941, the American Kennel Association and a group called Dogs for Defense began a movement to mobilize dog owners to donate healthy and capable animals to the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. Army. The top canine hero of World War II was Chips, a German Shepherd who served with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Trained as a sentry dog, Chips broke away from his handlers and attacked an enemy machine gun nest in Italy, forcing the entire crew to surrender.


A federal magistrate arraigned James R. Hoffa, then a 44-year-old Teamsters vice president, on charges that he tried to bribe John Cheasty, a lawyer for a Senate committee chaired by John McClellan (D-Ark.) that was investigating labor racketeering. The government accused Hoffa of trying to get Cheasty to feed him information from the committee’s files. Hoffa said he would “fight this case until I am cleared.” He was acquitted of the charges later that year, but eventually convicted of trying to bribe a grand jury member along fraud and conspiracy in the handling of a union benefits fund in 1964. His 13 year sentence was commuted by President Nixon in 1971. Before gaining control of his union, he mysteriously disappeared in 1975.


President John F. Kennedy proposed a 10-year, multibillion-dollar aid program for Latin America. The program came to be known as the Alliance for Progress and was designed to improve U.S. relations with Latin America, which had been severely damaged in recent years. The Latin American republics were disappointed with U.S. economic assistance after World War II. More troubling to American officials was the threat of communism in Latin America. During the next 10 years, billions were spent on the Alliance, but its success was marginal. The Alliance certainly failed in its effort to bring democracy to Latin America: by the time the program faded away in the early-1970s, 13 governments in Latin America had been replaced by military rule.

March 14


Alexander Hamilton received his commission as captain of a New York artillery company. Throughout the rest of 1776, Captain Hamilton established himself as a great military leader as he directed his artillery company in several battles in and around New York City. In March 1777, Hamilton’s performance came to the attention of General George Washington and he was commissioned lieutenant colonel and personal aide to General Washington in the Continental Army.


Warren Harding became the first president to file a full-year income tax return. He paid $17,000 on his 1922 presidential salary of $75,000 — about $1,080,000 in today’s money. As president-elect, Harding spoke out on Feb. 15, 1921, against a proposed bill that would make presidents permanently immune from income taxes, effectively killing it.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation instituted the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list in an effort to publicize particularly dangerous fugitives. The creation of the program arose out of a wire service news story in 1949 about the “toughest guys” the FBI wanted to capture. The story drew so much public attention that the “Ten Most Wanted” list was given the okay by J. Edgar Hoover the following year. The criterion for selection is simple, the criminal must have a lengthy record and current pending charges that make him or her particularly dangerous and the FBI must believe that the publicity attendant to placement on the list will assist in the apprehension of the fugitive.

March 15


As part of the Missouri Compromise between the North and the South, Maine was admitted into the Union as the 23rd state. Administered as a province of Massachusetts since 1647, the entrance of Maine as a free state was agreed to by Southern senators in exchange for the entrance of Missouri as a slave state. With 90 percent of Maine still covered by forests, Maine is known as the “Pine Tree State” and is the most sparsely populated state east of the Mississippi River.


President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of legislation guaranteeing voting rights for all. Using the phrase “we shall overcome,” borrowed from African American leaders struggling for equal rights, Johnson declared that “every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.” Johnson reminded the nation that the Fifteenth Amendment, which was passed after the Civil War, gave all citizens the right to vote regardless of race or color. But states had defied the Constitution and erected barriers. Discrimination had taken the form of literacy, knowledge or character tests administered solely to African Americans to keep them from registering to vote.


The Godfather—a three-hour epic chronicling the lives of the Corleones, an Italian-American crime family led by the powerful Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando)—was released in theaters. Brando turned in a phenomenal, intuitive performance as the Godfather, winning an Academy Award for Best Actor. Coppola’s meticulous direction and memorable performances by the rest of the film’s cast, including Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton, propelled the film to record-breaking box-office success as well as two more Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Godfather has remained a perennial choice on critics’ lists of the all-time best films in history.

March 16


The United States Military Academy—the first military school in the United States and often simply referred to as West Point—was founded by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science. Located at West Point, New York on the high west bank of New York’s Hudson River, West Point was the site of a Revolutionary-era fort built to protect the Hudson River Valley from British attack. The academy is now under the general direction and supervision of the department of the U.S. Army and has an enrollment of more than 4,000 students.


Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of adultery and betrayal in colonial America, The Scarlet Letter, was published. Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. Although the infamous Salem witch trials had taken place more than 100 years earlier, the events still hung over the town and made a lasting impression on the young Hawthorne. Witchcraft figured in several of his works, including Young Goodman Brown (1835) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851), in which a house is cursed by a wizard condemned by the witch trials.



In Beirut, Lebanon, Islamic militants kidnapped American journalist Terry Anderson and took him to the southern suburbs of the war-torn city, where other Western hostages are being held in scattered dungeons under ruined buildings. Before his abduction, Anderson covered the Lebanese Civil War for The Associated Press (AP) and also served as the AP’s Beirut bureau chief. On December 4, 1991, Anderson’s Hezbollah captors finally released him after 2,455 days. He was the last and longest-held American hostage in Lebanon. Anderson spent his entire captivity blindfolded and was released when the 16-year civil war came to an end.

Back to blog