This Week In American History: September 17th - September 23rd

This Week In American History: September 17th - September 23rd

September 17


The Constitution of the United States of America was signed by 38 of 41 delegates present at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. During an intensive debate, the delegates devised a brilliant federal organization characterized by an intricate system of checks and balances. The convention was divided over the issue of state representation in Congress, as more-populated states sought proportional legislation, and smaller states wanted equal representation. The problem was resolved with the creation of a bicameral legislature. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789.


NASA publicly unveiled its first space shuttle, the Enterprise, during a ceremony in Palmdale, California. Development of the aircraft-like spacecraft cost almost $10 billion and took nearly a decade. The Enterprise became the first space shuttle to fly freely when it was lifted to a height of 25,000 feet by a Boeing 747 airplane and then released, gliding back to Edwards Air Force Base on its own accord. Initially planned to be named Constitution and unveiled on Constitution Day, September 17, fans of Star Trek asked US President Gerald Ford, to name the orbiter after the television show's fictional starship, USS Enterprise. White House advisors cited "hundreds of thousands of letters" from Trekkies, "one of the most dedicated constituencies in the country", as a reason for giving the shuttle the name.


Hundreds of activists gathered around Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan for the first day of the Occupy Wall Street Movement—a weeks-long sit-in in New York City’s Financial District. Initiated by the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, the main issues raised were social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government, particularly from the financial services sector. Their slogan, "We are the 99%", referred to income and wealth inequality in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. To achieve their goals, protesters acted on consensus-based decisions made in general assemblies which emphasized redress through direct action over the petitioning to authorities. While the movement failed to see any of its goals or policy proposals come to fruition, years later, Occupy Wall Street is still considered a blueprint for decentralized activism.

September 18

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George Washington laid the cornerstone to the United States Capitol building, the home of the legislative branch of American government. The building would take nearly a century to complete, as architects came and went, the British set fire to it and it was called into use during the Civil War. Today, the Capitol building, with its famous cast-iron dome and important collection of American art, is part of the Capitol Complex, which includes six Congressional office buildings and three Library of Congress buildings, all developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Capitol, which is visited by 3 million to 5 million people each year, has 540 rooms and covers a ground area of about four acres.

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Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young co-founded a "stationary and fancy goods emporium" in Brooklyn, Connecticut. In 1853, the company found a home in New York City and was eventually renamed "Tiffany & Co." when Tiffany took control and established the firm's emphasis on jewelry. In 1886, founder Charles Tiffany conceived of the Tiffany Setting ring design, in which six prongs hold the diamond off of the band, in order to better accentuate the diamond. On January 7, 2021, French-based multinational LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton acquired majority stake in Tiffany & Co for $15.8 billion and delisted Tiffany’s stock from the New York Stock Exchange.

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"A Streetcar Named Desire", directed by Elia Kazan and based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play of the same name, was released. The film tells the story of a southern belle, Blanche DuBois, who, after encountering a series of personal losses, leaves her aristocratic background seeking refuge with her sister and brother-in-law in a dilapidated New Orleans apartment building. Starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, the movie won four Academy Awards, including three acting awards; Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. This was the first time a film had won three out of four acting awards.

September 19

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The United States detonated a 1.7-kiloton nuclear weapon in an underground tunnel at the Nevada Test Site (NTS), a 1.375-square-mile research center lcated 5 miles north of Las Vegas. The test, known as Ranier, was the first fully contained underground detonation and produced no radioactive fallout. In 1963, the US signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which banned nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere, underwater and outer space. A total of 928 tests took place at the Nevada Test Site between 1951 and 1992, when the US conducted its last underground nuclear test. In 1996, the US signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits nuclear detonations in all environments.

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American diver Greg Louganis smashed his head on a diving board during the 3m springboard preliminaries at the Seoul Olympics. Braving a head injury, he was back in the pool soon after receiving stitches to the head. He went on to win the 3m Springboard diving gold by a records margin of 25 points to retain the gold he won at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. What had initially appeared to be a straightforward comeback story became more complicated when Louganis revealed seven years later that he was gay and that he had been diagnosed with HIV six months before the 1988 Games. His diagnosis was a secret due to the fear and stigma around AIDS at the time. Louganis said he believes the attention he drew during the accident and then following his 1995 revelation may have—at some level—helped advance Americans’ acceptance of those with HIV.

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A manifesto by the Unabomber, an anti-technology terrorist, was published by The New York Times and Washington Post in the hope that someone will recognize the person who, for 17 years, had been sending homemade bombs through the mail that had killed and maimed innocent people around the United States. In April 1995, The New York Times received a letter from the Unabomber stating that the killings would stop if the paper printed a 35,000-word manifesto. After reading the manifesto, David Kaczynski linked the writing style to that of his older brother Ted, who was later convicted of the attacks and sentenced to life in prison without parole. All told, the Unabomber ws responsible for murdering three people and injuring another 23.

September 20

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In a highly publicized "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match, top women's player Billie Jean King, 29, beat Bobby Riggs, 55, a former #1 ranked men's player. Riggs, a self-proclaimed male chauvinist, had boasted that women were inferior, that the couldn't handle the pressure of the game and that even at his age he could beat any female player. The match was a huge media event, witnessed in person by over 30,000 spectators at the Houston Astrodome and by another 50 million TV viewers worldwide. King's achievement not only helped legitimize women's professional tennis and female athletes, but it was seen as a victory for women's rights in general.

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Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton scored his 107th rushing touchdown. The touchdown was scored at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and effectively brokw the career rushing touchdown record previously held by Jim Brown. Payton scored three more touchdown in his 12th season, bringing his career total to 110. Walter Payton retired from football at the end of the 1987-1988 season as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. Payton held the all-time touchdown record, the all-time rushing record, the all-time yards from scrimmage record and the career 100 yard rushing games record. Although many of Payton’s records have been broken in the years after his retirement, it takes nothing away from his great legacy.

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Following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, President George W. Bsh made and address to a joint session of Congress and the American people that was nationally broadcasted. The inspirational speech to America rallied support for the "War on Terror," which would eventually lead to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and became one of the defining speeches of his presidency.

September 21

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During the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold met with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. However, the conspiracy was uncovered and Andre was captured and executed. Arnold, the former American patriot, fled to the enemy side and went on to lead British troops in Virginia and Connecticut. He later moved to England, though he never received all of what he’d been promised by the British. He died in London on June 14, 1801. Benedict Arnold's name soon became synonymous with the world "traitor."

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The U.S. B-29 Superfortress made its debut flight in Seattle, Washington. It was the largest bomber used in the war by any nation. In combat, although Superfortress bombers were not as heavily armored as other Allied bombers, they possessed one defense that no others could compete with. They were capable of flying at the altitude of 10,200m, just above the service ceiling of most Japanese fighters and just beyond the range of most anti-aircraft weapons. Their fast airspeed also made the difficult to intercept by fighters that could fly that hight.

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The last game at historic Yankee Stadium, "The House That Babe Ruth Built," was played. The stadium opened in 1923 and was the scene of scores of Major League Baseball's most famous moments, including Ruth's first home run in the stadium on April 18, 1923, Reggie Jackson's three home run game to close out the 1977 World Series and Aaron Boone's Game 7 walk-off home run in the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox. In closing the stadium, the Yankees hosted a pre-game ceremony, allowing fans and former Yankee legends to walk the hallowed grounds a final time. Julia Ruth Stevens, Ruth's daughter, threw out the ceremonial first pitch as the scoreboard flashed “To Be Continued…” and a photo of "The Bambino" winking.

September 22

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President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which set a date for the freedom of more than 3 million enslaved in the United States and recast the Civil War as a fight against slavery. In the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln declared that all slaves would be "forever" free on January 1, 1863, unless the Confederate states returned to the Union. Lincoln followed through with his promise, and on New Year's Day 1863 he signed the final Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebel states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The proclamation also called for the recruitment and establishment of Black military units among the Union forces.

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The first four-level (or "stack) interchange in the world opened in Los Angeles, California, at the intersection of the Harbor, Hollywood, Pasadena and Santa Ana freeways. It was, as The Saturday Evening Post wrote, "a mad motorist's dream": 32 lanes of traffic weaving in eight directions at once. Today, although the four-level is justly celebrated as a civil engineering landmark, the interchange is complicated, frequently congested, and sometimes downright terrifying.

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Inspired by comments by Bob Dylan at Live Aid, fellow musicians Willie Nelson, John Mellancamp and Neil Young  organized the Farm Aid benefit concert to raise money for family farmers in the United States. The first concert was held at the Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois before a crowd of 80,000 people. Performers included Bob Dylan, Billy Joes, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, among others, and raised over $9 million for U.S. family farmers. The benefit concert continues to this day.

September 23

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An 800-pound tube made of copper and chromium called Cupaloy was lowered 50 feet into the ground during the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. The tube's contents comprised 35 items one might find in any run-of-the-mill American family household, including copies of Life magazine, a Sears Roebuck catalog, cigarettes and seeds of wheat, corn, alfalfa and soy, each examined and preserved in inert argon and nitrogen gas to remain intact for the next five thousand years - until the year 6939 to be exact. 

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Ralph Bunche became the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He received it for having arranged a cease-fire between Israelis and Arabs during the war which followed the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Bunche was involved in the formation and administration of the United Nations and played a major role in both the decolonization process and numerous peacekeeping operations sponsored by the UN. In 1963, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President John F. Kennedy. At the UN, Bunche gained such fame that Ebony magazine proclaimed him perhaps the most influential African American of the first half of the 20th century and "for nearly a decade, he was the most celebrated African American of his time both the US and abroad."

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"That'll Be the Day" by Buddy Holly and the Crickets reached #1. It was eventually inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 and, in 2005, placed in the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that "are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States."

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