This Week In American History: October 9th - October 15th

October 9

how old is the usa

1635

Religious dissident Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Williams had spoken out against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Native American land. Williams, with the assistance of the Narragansett tribe, established a settlement in present-day Rhode Island. He declared the settlement open to all those seeking freedom of conscience and the removal of the church from civil matters. Taking the success of the venture as a sign from God, Williams named the community “Providence.” Rhode Island became a haven for religious minorities. Nearly a century after his death, Williams’ notion of a separation between church and state inspired the Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, to consider the limits of the First Amendment.

made in america

1936

Harnessing the power of the mighty Colorado River, the Hoover Dam began sending electricity over transmission lines spanning 266 miles of mountains and deserts to run the lights, radios, and stoves of Los Angeles. Work on the dam began under President Herbert Hoover’s administration but completed as a public works project during the Roosevelt administration. When it was finished in 1935, the towering concrete and steel plug was the tallest dam in the world. The electricity generated deep in the bowels of Hoover Dam was only a secondary benefit. The central reason for the dam was the collection, preservation, and rational distribution of that most precious of all western commodities: water.

us flag company

1997

Coaching legend Dean Smith unexpectedly retired as the head coach of the UNC Tar Heels basketball team. Smith coached from 1961 to 1997 and retired with 879 victories, which was the NCAA Division I men's basketball record at that time. Smith was best known for running a clean program and having a high graduation rate of 96.6%. He also supported desegregation by recruiting the university's first African-American scholarship athlete, Charlie Scott, and pushing for equal treatment for African Americans by local businesses. His first national championship with the Tar Heels came with the 1981-1982 team, which featured Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and James Worthy. His second championship came in 1993. 

October 10

all flags

1973

Less than a year before Richard M. Nixon’s resignation as president of the United States, Spiro Agnew became the first U.S. vice president to resign in disgrace after the U.S. Justice Department uncovered widespread evidence of his political corruption, including allegations of accepting bribes that had continued into his tenure as U.S. vice president. The same day, he pleaded no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion in exchange for the dropping of charges of political corruption. He was subsequently fined $10,000, sentenced to three years probation, and disbarred by the Maryland court of appeals.

marines

  

marines

1985

The hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro reached a dramatic climax when U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat fighters intercepted an Egyptian airliner attempting to fly the Palestinian hijackers to freedom and force the jet to land at a NATO base in Sigonella, Sicily. A stand-off over control of the plane took place with 350 Italian Military Forces surrounding 80 U.S. Special Forces and the plane. After five hours of negotiations between the Italian and American governments, the U.S. yielded and conceded the Italian claim of jurisdiction.

buy usa flag

  

boy us flag

2004

Actor Christopher Reeve, who became famous for his starring role in four Superman films, died from heart failure at the age of 52 at a hospital near his home in Westchester County, New York. In 1995, Reeve broke his neck when he was thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition. The injury paralyzed him from the shoulders down, and he used a wheelchair and ventilator for the rest of his life. Beginning in the 1980s, Reeve was an activist for environmental and human-rights causes and for artistic freedom of expression. After his accident, he lobbied for spinal injury research, including human embryonic stem cell research, and for better insurance coverage for people with disabilities. Over the course of his career, Reeve received a BAFTA Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Emmy Award and a Grammy Award.

October 11

   

1975

Saturday Night Live (SNL), a topical comedy sketch show featuring Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman, made its debut on NBC. The 90-minute program, which from its inception has been broadcast live from Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center, includes a different guest host and musical act each week. The opening sketch of each show ends with one actor saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” Created by comedy writer Lorne Michaels, the influential comedian George Carlin hosted the debut episode. The show had launched the careers of such performers as Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Tina Fey, Amy Pohler and Kristen Wiig.

  

1975

26-year-old Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" became his first ever top 40 hit. Springsteen had two heavily promoted major-label albums behind him, but nothing approaching a popular hit. Tapped by Columbia Records as the Next Big Thing back in 1973, he’d been marketed first as the “New Dylan” and then as America’s new “Street Poet,” but unless you were a rock-journalism junkie or had been witness to one of his raucous three-hour live shows in an East Coast rock club, you’d probably never bought one of his records or even heard his name. That would all change soon, however, for the poet laureate of the Jersey Shore. "Born to Run" marked the start of his eventual transition from little-known cult figure to international superstar.

 

2002

Former President Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” Carter, a peanut farmer from Georgia, served one term as U.S. president between 1977 and 1981. One of his key achievements as president was mediating the peace talks between Israel and Egypt in 1978. The Nobel Committee had wanted to give Carter the prize that year for his efforts, along with Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin, but was prevented from doing so by a technicality—he had not been nominated by the official deadline.

October 12

1979

Future Basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson made his debut for the Los Angeles Lakers at the San Diego Clippers. Johnson scored 26 points during the Lakers 103-102 win. In his thirteen years in the NBA as a player, Magic Johnson would go on to be one of the best players of all time, winning 5 NBA Championships with the Lakers. His many accolades include 3x Finals MVP and 12x All-Star. The Lakers retired Johnson's #32 in 1992. After his retirement from basketball, Johnson became an extremely successful entrepreneur—his investment firm had estimated holdings of approximately $1 billion as of 2020—and a prominent HIV/AIDS activist. Johnson was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996, and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

  

1945

During World War II, over 70,000 men were designated conscientious objectors, mostly men whose religious beliefs made them opposed to war. Some refused to serve, but 25,000 joined the US armed forces in noncombat roles such as medics and chaplains. Private First Class Desmond T. Doss of Lynchburg, Virginia, was presented the Medal of Honor for outstanding bravery as a combat medic, the first conscientious objector in American history to receive the nation’s highest military award. When called on by his country to fight in World War II, Doss, a dedicated pacifist, registered as a conscientious objector. Eventually sent to the Pacific theater of war as a medical corpsman, Doss voluntarily put his life in the utmost peril during the bloody Battle for Okinawa, saving dozens of lives well beyond the call of duty.

2000

At 12:15 p.m. local time, a motorized rubber dinghy loaded with explosives blew a 40-by-40-foot hole in the port side of the USS Cole, a U.S. Navy destroyer that was refueling at Aden, Yemen. Seventeen sailors were killed and 38 wounded in the attack, which was carried out by two suicide terrorists alleged to be members of Saudi exile Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network. The explosion caused extensive flooding in the warship, causing the ship to list slightly, but by the evening crew members had managed to stop the flooding and keep the Cole afloat.Six men believed to be involved in the Cole attack were soon arrested in Yemen. Lacking cooperation by Yemeni authorities, the FBI has failed to conclusively link the attack to bin Laden.

October 13

1775

The Continental Congress authorized construction and administration of the first American naval force—the precursor to the United States Navy. Since the outbreak of open hostilities with the British in April, little consideration had been given to protection by sea until Congress received news that a British naval fleet was on its way. In November, the Continental Navy was formally organized, and on December 22, Esek Hopkins was appointed the first commander in chief of the Continental Navy. During the American Revolution, the Continental Navy successfully preyed on British merchant shipping and won several victories over British warships. This first naval force was disbanded after the war. What is now known as the United States Navy was formally established with the creation of the federal Department of the Navy in April 1798.

1997

John Denver died when his experimental amateur aircraft crashed into Monterey Bay on the California coast. To those who bought records like “Rocky Mountain High” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by the millions in the 1970s, John Denver was much more than just a great songwriter and performer. With his oversized glasses, bowl haircut and down vest, he was an unlikely fashion icon, and with his vocal environmentalism, he was the living embodiment of an outdoorsy lifestyle. A movie star and political activist as well as a musician, John Denver was one of the biggest stars of his generation, and is credited by the Recording Industry Association of America with selling more than 32 million albums in the US alone.

  

2019

Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history when she won gold medals in the balance beam and the floor exercise at the 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. The wins increased her career medal total in the championships to 25. The record medal count — two more than the previous high, held for more than two decades by Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus — strengthened the case of those who already consider Biles to be the greatest gymnast of all time.

October 14

1947

U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound when he flew the “Glamorous Glennis," experimental Bell X-1 rocket plane named after his wife, over Rogers Dry Lake in Southern California. The X-1 was lifted to an altitude of 25,000 feet by a B-29 aircraft and then released through the bomb bay, rocketing to 40,000 feet and exceeding 662 miles per hour (the sound barrier at that altitude). Because of the secrecy of the project, Bell and Yeager’s achievement was not announced until June 1948. Yeager continued to serve as a test pilot, and in 1953 he flew 1,650 miles per hour in an X-1A rocket plane. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1975 with the rank of brigadier general.

1964

African American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his non-violent struggle for civil rights for the Afro-American population" At 35 years of age, the Georgia-born minister was the youngest person ever to receive the award. Influenced by Mohandas Gandhi, he advocated nonviolent civil disobedience to racial segregation. The peaceful protests he led throughout the American South were often met with violence, but King and his followers persisted, and their nonviolent movement gained momentum. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.

1994

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a crime drama featuring multiple storylines and a large ensemble cast including John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis and Harvey Keitel, opened in theaters. Made for less than $10 million, Pulp Fiction earned more than $100 million at the box office and was a huge critical hit, winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and earning seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

October 15

1863

The H.L. Hunley, the world’s first successful combat submarine, sunk during a test run, killing its inventor and seven crew members. The submarine would go on to complete its last mission in 1864 when it sank the U.S.S. Housatonic in shallow water, becoming the first submarine to sink a ship in battle. However, its first successful mission was also its last—the Hunley sank before it returned to Charleston, taking yet another crew down with it. The vessel was raised in 2000, and is now on exhibit in Charleston.

1989

Los Angeles King Wayne Gretzky broke Gordie Howe’s NHL points record (1,850) in the final period of a game against the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky’s record-setting goal tied the game; in overtime he scored another, and the Kings won 5-4. Gretzky had played in Edmonton for nine seasons and helped the team win four Stanley Cups, so the city’s Northland Coliseum was packed with fans. When he scored his goal, the sellout crowd erupted into a thunderous ovation that lasted for more than two minutes. By the time Gretzky retired at the end of the 1998-99 season, he held or shared 61 NHL records. In all, he scored 894 goals and tallied 1,963 assists for 2,857 points in 1,487 games.

1991

After a bitter confirmation hearing, the U.S. Senate voted 52 to 48 to confirm Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice. President George Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, a 43-year-old African American judge known for his conservative beliefs, to fill the seat. As the hearings for Thomas’ nomination got underway, he evaded controversy over his conservative views by refusing to state a clear political position. He seemed headed for an easy confirmation until Anita Hill, a former aide, stepped forward and accused him of sexual harassment.