A mob of American colonists gathered at the Customs House in Boston and began taunting the British soldiers guarding the building. The protesters, who called themselves Patriots, were protesting the occupation of their city by British troops, who were sent to Boston in 1768 to enforce unpopular taxation measures passed by a British parliament that lacked American representation. One of the British soldier fired, which lead to the events of the Boston Massacre and the deaths of five colonists. The deaths of the five men are regarded by some historians as the first fatalities in the American Revolutionary War.
The Hula Hoop, a hip-swiveling toy that became a huge fad across America when it was first marketed by Wham-O in 1958, was patented by the company’s co-founder, Arthur “Spud” Melin. An estimated 25 million Hula Hoops were sold in its first four months of production alone. The Hula Hoop was inspired by a wooden hoop that Australian children twirled around their waists during gym class. Wham-O began producing a plastic version of the hoop, dubbed “Hula” after the hip-gyrating Hawaiian dance of the same name, and demonstrating it on Southern California playgrounds. Hula Hoop mania took off from there.
Near the very height of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, American popular-music fans made a #1 hit out of a song called “The Ballad Of The Green Berets” by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler. Sadler was exactly what his name and uniform implied he was: a real-life, active-duty member of the United States Army Special Forces—the elite unit popularly known as the Green Berets.
President James Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise, also known as the Compromise Bill of 1820, into law. The bill attempted to equalize the number of slave-holding states and free states in the country, allowing Missouri into the Union as a slave state while Maine joined as a free state. Additionally, portions of the Louisiana Purchase territory north of the 36-degrees-30-minutes latitude line were prohibited from engaging in slavery by the bill. In the end, the Missouri Compromise failed to permanently ease the underlying tensions caused by the slavery issue. The conflict that flared up during the bill’s drafting presaged how the nation would eventually divide along territorial, economic and ideological lines 40 years later during the Civil War.
After 13 days of fighting, the Battle of the Alamo came to a gruesome end, capping off a pivotal moment in the Texas Revolution. Mexican forces were victorious in recapturing the fort, and nearly all of the roughly 200 Texan defenders—including frontiersman Davy Crockett—died. Meanwhile, Sam Houston, commander of the Texas forces, was building and developing his army in Harris County. “Remember the Alamo!” became their rallying cry as an urgent reminder to avenge their earlier defeat. On April 21, Texas and Mexico fought again at the Battle of San Jacinto. Texas was victorious this time, and won independence from Mexico, bringing the Texas Revolution to an end.
CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite signed off with his trademark valediction, "And that's the way it is," for the final time. Over the previous 19 years, Cronkite had established himself not only as the nation's leading newsman but as "the most trusted man in America," a steady presence during two decades of social and political upheaval. Cronkite relinquished the anchor's chair at the age of 65 because CBS mandated that its employees retire at that age. He remained in public life for many years, writing a syndicated column and regularly hosting the Kennedy Center Honors. Due both to his near-universally recognized credibility and to the century-defining events he reported to the nation, Cronkite remains a singular figure, quite possibly the most respected television news journalist in American history. He died in 2009.
The New Republic published Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The poem, beginning with the famous line “Whose woods these are, I think I know. His house is in the village though,” has introduced millions of American students to poetry. Like most of Frost’s poetry, “Stopping by Woods” adopts the tone of a simple New England farmer contemplating an everyday site. Frost was a prolific writer and taught and lectured at Amherst, University of Michigan, Harvard, and Dartmouth, and read his poetry at the inauguration of President Kennedy. Although he never graduated from a university, he had collected 44 honorary degrees before he died in 1963.
A 600-person civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by civil rights activists John Lewis and Hosea Williams ends in violence when marchers are attacked and beaten by state troopers and sheriff’s deputies. The day's events became known as "Bloody Sunday." Martin Luther King, Jr. completed the march, along with 25,000 demonstrators, on March 25, under the protection of the U.S. military and the FBI. The route is now a U.S. National Historic Trail. Prodded by what President Johnson called “the outrage of Selma,” the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law five months later, with the purpose to “right that wrong.” Lewis became a U.S. congressman from Georgia in 1986; he died in 2020.
Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director, for her movie “The Hurt Locker,” about an American bomb squad that disables explosives in Iraq in 2004. After making history by winning the directing prize, Bigelow said, “I hope I’m the first of many [women], and of course, I’d love to just think of myself as a filmmaker. And I long for the day when that modifier can be a moot point.” “The Hurt Locker,” which starred Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, also won Oscars for best picture, film editing, sound editing, sound mixing and original screenplay.
Speaking to a convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Florida, President Reagan publicly referred to the Soviet Union as an evil empire for the second time in his career. He had first used the phrase in a 1982 speech at the British House of Commons. Some considered Reagan’s use of the Star Wars film-inspired terminology to be brilliant democratic rhetoric. Others, denounced it as irresponsible bombast. Reagan’s aggressive stance toward the Soviet Union became known as the Reagan Doctrine. He warned against what he and his supporters saw as the dangerous trend of tolerating the Soviets’ build-up of nuclear weapons and attempts to infiltrate Third World countries in order to spread communism.
The USS Henrico, Union, and Vancouver, carrying the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade under Brig. Gen. Frederick J. Karch, took up stations 4,000 yards off Red Beach Two, north of Da Nang. These more than 4,000 Marines would wade onto shore and be the first U.S. combat troops in Vietnam. Deployed to secure the U.S. airbase, freeing South Vietnamese troops up for combat, the situation escalated quickly.
The Music Television Network (MTV) aired the first episode of the animated series Beavis and Butt-Head, which offered audiences rude and crude buddy humor in the tradition of The Three Stooges, Cheech and Chong, and Wayne and Garth of Saturday Night Live and the Wayne’s World movies. Despite the mixed critical response, the show earned MTV’s highest ratings. It also sparked a heated controversy over the influence of TV programs on impressionable young children.
One of the most famous naval battles in American history occurred as two ironclads, the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia, fight to a draw off Hampton Roads, Virginia. The battle between the Virginia and the Monitor continued for four hours, with the ships circling one another, jockeying for position as they fired their guns. The cannon balls simply deflected off the iron ships. In the early afternoon, the Virginia pulled back to Norfolk. Neither ship was seriously damaged, but the Monitor effectively ended the short reign of terror that the Confederate ironclad had brought to the Union navy. The battle signaled a new era of steam-powered iron ships.
The first Barbie doll went on display at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Eleven inches tall, with a waterfall of blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. The woman behind Barbie was Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945. After seeing her young daughter ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, Handler realized there was an important niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future. Since 1959, over one billion dolls in the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide global icon.
The legendary cigar-chomping performer George Burns died at his home in Beverly Hills, just weeks after celebrating his 100th birthday. Burns' success started to flourish in 1922 when he teamed up with fellow performer, Gracie Allen, whom he would spend the rest of his life married to. The 1920s were a golden era for vaudeville performers, and Burns and Allen were one of the greats. In 1988, Burns won an award for lifetime achievement from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He wrote two best-selling autobiographical works, along with eight other books that earned him his well-deserved reputation as an invaluable first-hand observer of the history of 20th century entertainment.
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.
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.