This Week In American History: May 29th - June 4th

May 29


Wisconsin entered the Union as the 30th state. In 1634, French explorer Jean Nicolet landed at Green Bay, becoming the first European to visit the lake-heavy northern region that would later become Wisconsin. In the first decades of the 19th century, settlers began arriving via the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to exploit Wisconsin’s agricultural potential. By 1840, population in Wisconsin had risen above 130,000, but the people voted against statehood four times, fearing the higher taxes that would come with a stronger central government. Finally, Wisconsin citizens, envious of the prosperity that federal programs brought to neighboring Midwestern states, voted to approve statehood. Wisconsin entered the Union the next May.


After WWI, many veterans returned home from war with little support from the government except for bond certificates set to expire in 1945. The Great Depression prompted many vets to wish that maturation date came sooner, so an initial contingent of some 1,000 veterans called the Bonus Expeditionary Force arrived in Washington seeking to cash out their certificates. In the ensuing weeks, more veterans made their way to the capital, eventually swelling to nearly 20,000 strong. On July 28, President Herbert Hoover ordered the army, under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur to evict them. MacArthur asserted that the protests were a Communist plot against the U.S. government. Two men were killed as tear gas and bayonets assailed the protesters.



Bob Hope celebrated his 100th birthday and some 35 U.S. states declared it to be Bob Hope Day. In a public ceremony held in Hollywood, city officials renamed the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Avenue–famous for its historic buildings and as a central point on the Hollywood Walk of Fame–Bob Hope Square. Several 1940s-era U.S. planes flew overhead as part of an air show honoring Hope’s longtime role as an entertainer of U.S. armed forces all over the world. Hope, who was then suffering from failing eyesight and hearing, was too ill to attend the public ceremonies. Dubbed “Mr. Entertainment” and the “King of Comedy,” Hope died on July 27, 2003, less than two months after his 100th birthday celebration.

May 30



Ray Harroun drove his single-seater Marmon Wasp to victory in the inaugural Indianapolis 500, now one of the world’s most famous motor racing competitions. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built on 328 acres of farmland northwest of downtown Indianapolis after being proposed by auto dealer Carl Fisher. The idea was that occasional races at the track would pit cars from different manufacturers against each other in order to showcase their full power and entice spectators to check out the new models themselves. In 1911, Fisher and his partners decided to focus on one long grueling 500-mile race per year in order to attract more publicity. Harroun took home the $14,250 purse, clocking an average speed of 74.59 mph and a total time of 6 hours and 42 minutes.


President William Howard Taft dedicated the Lincoln Memorial on the Washington Mall. At the time, Taft was serving as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress authorized construction of a monument to US President Abraham Lincoln on the Capitol grounds in 1867 (two years after his assassination), but it took until 1911 for funding to be approved; construction was then slowed due to World War I. Inside the Parthenon inspired monument is a 19-foot-high white marble statue of a seated Lincoln. An inscription above it reads, "In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."


The U.S. unmanned space probe Mariner 9 was launched on a mission to gather scientific information on Mars, the fourth planet from the sun. The 1,116-pound spacecraft entered the planet’s orbit on November 13, 1971, and circled Mars twice each day for almost a year, photographing the surface and analyzing the atmosphere with infrared and ultraviolet instruments. It gathered data on the atmospheric composition, density, pressure, and temperature of Mars, and also information about the surface composition, temperature, and topography of the planet. Mariner 9 sent back more than 7,000 pictures of the “Red Planet” and also sent back the first close-up images of the Martian moon. Its transmission ended on October 27, 1972.

May 31


The South Fork Dam in Pennsylvania collapsed, causing the Johnstown Flood and killing more than 2,000 people. The dam was once the largest earth dam in the US and created the largest man-made lake of the time, Lake Conemaugh. It was part of an extensive canal system that fell into disuse and neglect as railroads replaced the canal as a means of transporting goods. Once the dam collapsed, All of the water from Lake Conemaugh rushed forward at 40 miles per hour, sweeping away everything in its path. One of the American Red Cross’s first major relief efforts took place in the aftermath of the Johnstown flood. Clara Barton arrived five days later to lead the relief. It took five years to rebuild Johnstown, which again endured deadly floods in 1936 and 1977.


Best known to his many fans as San Francisco Police Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan, actor and Oscar-winning filmmaker Clint Eastwood was born in San Francisco, California. After four years in the Army Special Services, Eastwood went to Hollywood, where he got his start in a string of B-movies. In 1992, he hit the jackpot when he starred in, directed and produced the darkly unconventional Western Unforgiven. The film won four Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Film Editing, Best Director and Best Picture, both for Eastwood. Eastwood’s second set of statuettes for Best Director and Best Picture came for Million Dollar Baby in 2005.


W. Mark Felt’s family ended 30 years of speculation, identifying Felt, the former FBI assistant director, as “Deep Throat,” the secret source who helped unravel the Watergate scandal. Felt's admission, made in an article in Vanity Fair magazine, took legendary reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who had promised to keep their source’s identity a secret until his death, by surprise. Tapes show that President Nixon himself had speculated that Felt was the secret informant as early as 1973.

June 1


CNN (Cable News Network), the world’s first 24-hour television news network and the brainchild of Robert “Ted” Turner, made its debut. The network signed on from its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, with a lead story about the attempted assassination of civil rights leader Vernon Jordan. CNN went on to change the notion that news could only be reported at fixed times throughout the day. At the time of CNN’s launch, TV news was dominated by three major networks—ABC, CBS and NBC—and their nightly 30-minute broadcasts. Initially available in less than two million U.S. homes, today CNN is seen in more than 90 million American households and over 370 million households and hotel rooms internationally.


At a superpowers summit meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed a historic agreement to end production of chemical weapons and begin the destruction of both nations’ sizable reserves of them. According to the agreement, on-site inspectors from both countries would observe the destruction process. The treaty was part of an effort to discourage smaller nations from stockpiling and using the lethal weapons. The United States and Russia began destroying their chemical weapons arsenals in the early 1990s. In 1993, the U.S., Russia, and 150 other nations signed a comprehensive treaty banning chemical weapons. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in 1997.


A massive morning fire at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park and studio backlot in Universal City, California destroyed a trove of irreplaceable recordings by some of the greatest American musical artists, thousands of archived digital and video film copies and King Kong Encounter, one of the park’s most popular attractions. An investigation revealed the fire began when a worker used a blowtorch to warm asphalt shingles. The worker left before checking if all spots had cooled. In 2019, the New York Times said anywhere from 120,000 to 175,000 master recordings—including those by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong Chuck Berry. Aretha Franklin, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails and more—were destroyed in the fire.

June 2



President Grover Cleveland became the first sitting president to marry in the White House when he married Frances Folsom, a young woman 27 years his junior. Frances was the daughter of a former law partner and Cleveland’s legal ward; Cleveland had literally known her since she was born. When she was 11, Frances’ father died and Cleveland became her legal guardian, remaining close friends with her mother. In another White House first, Frances and Cleveland’s second daughter Esther became the first child born to a president in a White House bedroom.


President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the Indian Citizenship Act, conferring citizenship on all Native Americans born within the territorial limits of the country. Before the Civil War, citizenship was often limited to Native Americans of one-half or less Indian blood. In the Reconstruction period, progressives sought to accelerate the granting of citizenship to friendly tribes, though state support for these measures was often limited. In 1888, most Native American women married to U.S. citizens were conferred with citizenship, and in 1919 Native American veterans of WWI were offered citizenship. The privileges of citizenship, however, were largely governed by state law, and the right to vote was often denied to Native Americans in the early 20th century.


Timothy McVeigh, a former U.S. Army soldier, was convicted on 15 counts of murder and conspiracy for his role in terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. On April 19, 1995, a massive truck bomb exploded, collapsing the north face of the nine-story building. When the rescue effort finally ended two weeks later, the death toll stood at 168 people, including 19 young children. In December 2000, McVeigh asked a federal judge to stop all appeals of his convictions and to set a date for his execution by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana. McVeigh’s execution, in June 2001, was the first federal death penalty to be carried out since 1963.

June 3


American socialite Wallis Warfield Simpson, a divorced American socialite, married the duke of Windsor—formerly King Edward VIII of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. By 1934, the pair had fallen deeply in love but Simpson was still married to Ernest Simpson, an English-American businessman who lived with Mrs. Simpson near London. The royal family disapproved of Edward’s married mistress, but the king was intent on marrying her. Mrs. Simpson obtained a preliminary decree of divorce, presumably with the intent of marrying the king, precipitating a major scandal in bot the US and the UK. Edward VIII’s 325-day reign came to an end when he abdicated his thrown to be able to marry the American.


A group of U.S. sailors marched through downtown Los Angeles, carrying clubs and other makeshift weapons and attacking anyone wearing a “zoot suit”—the baggy wool pants, oversized coats and porkpie hats favored by many young men of color at the time. Over the next week, the so-called Zoot Suit Riots spread throughout the city. Negative sentiments towards those wearing the "zoot suit" grew out of racial tensions and the rationing of wool during WW2. One was deemed unpatriotic if wearing the style. The riots finally calmed when military officials banned all military personnel from L.A. and called on military police to patrol the city. The L.A. City Council subsequently passed a resolution prohibiting the wearing of zoot suits on city streets.


120 miles above the Earth, Major Edward H. White II opened the hatch of the Gemini 4 and stepped out of the capsule, becoming the first American astronaut to walk in space. Attached to the craft by a 25-foot tether and controlling his movements with a hand-held oxygen jet-propulsion gun, White remained outside the capsule for just over 20 minutes. The Gemini space flights were the first to involve multiple crews, and the extended duration of the missions provided valuable information about the biological effects of longer-term space travel. When the Gemini program ended in 1966, U.S. astronauts had also perfected rendezvous and docking maneuvers with other orbiting vehicles, a skill that would be essential during the three-stage Apollo moon missions.

June 4


The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote, is passed by Congress. By the beginning of the 20th century, the role of women in American society was changing drastically; women were working more, receiving a better education, bearing fewer children, and several states had authorized female suffrage. In 1913, the National Woman’s party organized the voting power of these enfranchised women to elect congressional representatives who supported woman suffrage. The 19th Amendment, which stated that “the rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” passed both houses of Congress and was sent to the states for ratification.


U.S. Navy hunter-killer group organized around USS Guadalcanal and lead by U.S. Navy Capt. Daniel V. Gallery captured the German U-505 submarine. This was the first time that the U.S. Navy had captured an enemy vessel at sea since the 19th century. After the surrendered German survivors were picked up from the U-boat, Lt. (junior grade) Albert L. David led a group of nine men down the hatch of the U-505, salvaging the U-boat and recovering invaluable code books and papers that were used by Allied forces to help in code-breaking. David was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. The submarine salvage was kept secret to prevent the Germans from knowing of the Allies' codebreaking activities.


Martha Stewart was indicted for securities fraud and obstruction of justice. Stewart, CEO and chairwoman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., was tipped by her broker that ImClone’s stock was going to drop after the company’s owner received inside information that the FDA was going to decline to review an application for the company’s cancer drug. She shed her nearly 4,000 ImClone shares one day before the FDA decision was announced. Stewart was sentenced to five months at a West Virginia minimum-security federal prison. She served out the sentence in 2004, and then served five months of house arrest and two years of probation. Stewart resigned from her company’s board, keeping the title of founding editorial director.