The Battle of Lake Erie marked the first unqualified defeat of a British naval squadron in history. U.S. Captain Oliver Hazard Perry leads a fleet of nine American ships to victory over a squadron of six British warships during the War of 1812. The battle was closely contested for hours, and Perry’s flagship Lawrence was reduced to a defenseless wreck. He then transferred to the Niagara and sailed directly into the British line, firing broadsides and forcing the British to surrender. Perry had won a complete victory at the cost of 27 Americans killed and 96 wounded; British casualties were 40 dead and 94 wounded. The Battle of Lake Erie forced the British to abandon Detroit, ensuring U.S. control over Lake Erie and the territorial northwest.
Nearly a year after the end of World War I, known at the time as the Great War, Gen. John J. Pershing led a victory parade down New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Crowds cheered as 25,000 U.S. soldiers who had served in the American Expeditionary Force’s 1st Division on the Western Front marched from 107th Street to Washington Square in Greenwich Village, wearing trench helmets and full combat gear. Though the U.S. was initially able to muster only about 100,000 men to send to France under Pershing’s command, President Woodrow Wilson swiftly adopted a policy of conscription. By the time the war ended on November 11, 1918, more than 2 million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and some 50,000 of them had lost their lives.
Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released. In just a few short months, the group evolved from a complete mainstream music nonentity to become the most important rock band on earth. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released quietly and without significant promotion in the hopes that it would begin building awareness of the new album, Nevermind, among listeners to college and alternative radio. Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s guitarist, lead singer and primary songwriter, had to be talked into even including “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Nevermind by his bandmates bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl.
America was attacked when an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Then, a second Boeing 767—United Airlines Flight 175—appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center, and sliced into the south tower at about the 60th floor. As millions watched in horror the events unfolding in New York, American Airlines Flight 77 circled over downtown Washington, D.C. and slammed into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters at 9:37 a.m. Meanwhile, a fourth California-bound plane–United Flight 93–was hijacked about 40 minutes after leaving Newark International Airport in New Jersey. Because the plane had been delayed in taking off, passengers on board learned of events in New York and Washington via cell phone and Airfone calls to the ground. Knowing that the aircraft was not returning to an airport as the hijackers claimed, a group of passengers and flight attendants planned an insurrection. The passengers fought the hijackers, leading the plane to flip and crash into a rural field in Pennsylvania. The intended target of United Flight 93 has never been determined. The attackers were Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations. Reportedly financed by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist organization, they were allegedly acting in retaliation for America’s support of Israel, its involvement in the Persian Gulf War, and its continued military presence in the Middle East. Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led international effort to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and destroy Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network based there, began on October 7, 2001. Bin Laden was killed during a raid of his compound in Pakistan by U.S. forces on May 2, 2011.
Former middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson defeated Randy Turpin to win back the belt in front of 61,370 spectators at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Robinson, a NYC native, had lost the belt to Turpin two months prior in Turpin’s native London after underestimating the Londonder. The crowd was filled with well-known personalities from U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur to stars of film and stage. Robinson, intent on avenging his loss, trained intensely for the rematch, refusing to once again take his opponent too lightly. Two minutes and 52 seconds into the 10th round, referee Rudy Goldstein stopped the fight, and Robinson was showered with adulation from the adoring hometown crowd.
After nearly 40 years of riding across millions of American TV and movie screens, the cowboy actor William Boyd, best known for his role as Hopalong Cassidy, died at the age of 77. During the 1930s, Boyd made more than 50 cheap but successful “B-grade” westerns starring as Hopalong Cassidy. Together with his always loyal and outlandishly intelligent horse, Topper, Hopalong righted wrongs, saved school marms in distress, and single-handedly fought off hordes of marauding Indians. After the war, Boyd recognized an opportunity to take Hopalong and Topper into the new world of television. By 1950, American children had made Hopalong Cassidy the seventh most popular TV show in America and were madly snapping up genuine “Hoppy” cowboy hats, chaps, and six-shooters, earning Boyd’s venture more than $250 million.
The Harlem Globetrotters tipped off the third game of an 11-game exhibition series in Europe against a team of retired basketball stars led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, aptly named "Kareem's All-Stars." Unlike the previous 8,829 games, the Globetrotters lose, 91-85—the team’s first loss since 1971. The Globetrotters' games are usually scripted, but this game was not. The victory had additional significance for Abdul-Jabbar, who was no stranger to the Globetrotters. In 1969, the Globetrotters—known primarily for their on-court antics—reportedly offered him a $1 million contract to play with them after his historic collegiate career at UCLA. Abdul-Jabbar turned the deal down and went onto become the No. 1 pick of the 1969 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Texas-born entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash launched a cosmetic company in Dallas with her $5,000 life savings and the help of her 20-year-old son Richard Rogers. Mary Kay Inc. would become a cosmetic empire with revenue of more than $3.5 billion and salespeople in dozens of countries. Ash, a fierce advocate for women, quit a sales job in the early 1960s after a man had been promoted to a position above her at double her salary. Mary Kay—one of the world’s largest direct-selling companies—became renowned for an award system designed for women, including mink coats, diamond rings and pink Cadillacs. Ash, who became one of the most recognizable businesswomen in America, died in 2001. She was 83.
Law & Order premiered on NBC; it will go on to become one of the longest-running primetime dramas in TV history and spawn several popular spin-offs. According to the now-famous Law & Order formula, the first half of the hour-long program, which is set in New York City, focuses on the police as they investigate a crime—often inspired by real-life news stories—while the second part of the show centers on the prosecution of those accused of that crime. Each episode opens with a narrator stating: “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”
After decades of bloody animosity, representatives of Israel and Palestine meet on the South Lawn of the White House and sign a framework for peace. The “Declaration of Principles” was the first agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians towards ending their conflict and sharing the holy land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea that they both claim as their homeland. President Bill Clinton presided over the ceremony, and more than 3,000 onlookers, including former presidents George Bush and Jimmy Carter, watched in amazement as Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yaser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sealed the agreement with a handshake. The old bitter enemies had met for the first time at a White House reception that morning.
Francis Scott Key penned the poem, “The Defence of Fort M'Henry,” after he witnessed the Maryland fort being bombarded by the British during the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the sight of a lone U.S. flag still flying over Fort McHenry at daybreak, as reflected in the now-famous words of the “Star-Spangled Banner”: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” The poem was eventually set to the music of a popular English drinking tune called “To Anacreon in Heaven." People began referring to the song as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson announced that it should be played at all official events. It was adopted as the national anthem on March 3, 1931.
Writer John Steinbeck was presented the U.S. Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. By this point in his prolific literary career, Steinbeck had already received numerous other honors and awards for his writing, including the 1962 Nobel Prize and a 1939 Pulitzer Prize for Grapes of Wrath.
With players on strike since mid-August, Major League Baseball cancelled its playoffs and World Series. This marked the first time since 1904 that a season ended without the crowning a champion. There were numerous reasons for the MLB strike, which lasted until April 2, 1995, but the overwhelming themes were money and mistrust. MLB owners wanted a cap on players’ salaries and the implementation of local broadcast revenue sharing. The MLB Players Association refused. The strike ended what should have been an exciting last few months of the season. The Montreal Expos (74-40) and New York Yankees (70-43) appeared to be on a collision course for the World Series.
U.S. Marines landed at Inchon on the west coast of Korea. The location had been criticized as too risky, but U.N. Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur insisted on carrying out the landing. By early evening, the Marines had secured Inchon. The brilliant landing completely turned the tides of the Korean War by cutting the North Korean forces in two. The U.S.-led U.N. force were then able to push inland to recapture Seoul, the South Korean capital that had fallen to the communists in June. Allied forces then converged from the north and the south, devastating the North Korean army and taking 125,000 enemy troops prisoner.
Muhammad Ali defeated Leon Spinks at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans to win the world heavyweight boxing title for the third time in his career, the first fighter ever to do so. This rematch followed Ali's February 15, 1978 title loss to Spinks in a 15-round split decision. After winning at the Superdome, Ali retired in 1979 only to return in 1980. He left the sport permanently in 1981 with a record of 56 wins, five losses and 37 knockouts. In 1984, he was revealed to have Parkinson’s disease. Ali died on June 3, 2016. Spinks retired from boxing in 1995 with a record of 26 wins, 17 losses and 14 knockouts.
The venerable Wall Street brokerage firm Lehman Brothers seeks Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, becoming the largest victim of the subprime mortgage crisis that would devastate financial markets and contribute to the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. At the time of its collapse, Lehman Brothers was the country’s fourth-largest investment bank, with some 25,000 employees worldwide—but it began as a humble dry goods store founded by German immigrant Henry Lehman in 1844 in Montgomery, Alabama. Despite concerns about the consequences a Lehman Brothers collapse would bring, the federal government and representatives of the administration of President George W. Bush ultimately refused to bail out another investment bank.
The Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, bound for the New World with 102 passengers. The ship was headed for Virginia, where the colonists—half religious dissenters and half entrepreneurs—had been authorized to settle by the British crown. However, stormy weather and navigational errors forced the Mayflower off course, and on November 21 the “Pilgrims” reached Massachusetts, where they founded the first permanent European settlement in New England in late December.
Buick Motor Company head William Crapo Durant spends $2,000 to incorporate General Motors in New Jersey. Durant, a high-school dropout, had made his fortune building horse-drawn carriages, and, in fact, hated cars. He considered cars noisy, smelly, and dangerous. Nevertheless, the giant company he built would dominate the American auto industry for decades. The new GM produced a wide variety of cars for a wide variety of buyers. In its first two years, GM cobbled together 30 companies, including 11 automakers like Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and Oakland (which later became Pontiac), some supplier firms, and even an electric company.
The Burke-Wadsworth Act was passed by Congress and the first peacetime draft in the history of the United States was imposed. The registration of men between the ages of 21 and 36 began exactly one month later, as Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, began drawing draft numbers out of a glass bowl. The numbers were handed to President Roosevelt, who read them aloud for public announcement. There were some 20 million eligible young men—50 percent were rejected the very first year, either for health reasons or illiteracy (20 percent of those who registered were illiterate). By war’s end, approximately 34 million men had registered, and 10 million served with the military.