This Day in History

Syndicate content
This Day in History content from History.com for Lead Story
Updated: 5 hours 18 min ago

November 26, 1941: FDR establishes modern Thanksgiving holiday

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 11:00pm

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs a bill officially establishing the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

The tradition of celebrating the holiday on Thursday dates back to the early history of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, when post-harvest holidays were celebrated on the weekday regularly set aside as "Lecture Day," a midweek church meeting where topical sermons were presented. A famous Thanksgiving observance occurred in the autumn of 1621, when Plymouth governor William Bradford invited local Indians to join the Pilgrims in a three-day festival held in gratitude for the bounty of the season.

Thanksgiving became an annual custom throughout New England in the 17th century, and in 1777 the Continental Congress declared the first national American Thanksgiving following the Patriot victory at Saratoga. In 1789, President George Washington became the first president to proclaim a Thanksgiving holiday, when, at the request of Congress, he proclaimed November 26, a Tuesday, as a day of national thanksgiving for the U.S. Constitution. However, it was not until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to fall on the last Thursday of November, that the modern holiday was celebrated nationally.

With a few deviations, Lincoln's precedent was followed annually by every subsequent president--until 1939. In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt departed from tradition by declaring November 23, the next to last Thursday that year, as Thanksgiving Day. Considerable controversy surrounded this deviation, and some Americans refused to honor Roosevelt's declaration. For the next two years, Roosevelt repeated the unpopular proclamation, but on November 26, 1941, he admitted his mistake and signed a bill into law officially making the fourth Thursday in November the national holiday of Thanksgiving Day.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 25, 1952: Mousetrap opens in London

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 11:00pm

"The Mousetrap," a murder-mystery written by the novelist and playwright Agatha Christie, opens at the Ambassadors Theatre in London. The crowd-pleasing whodunit would go on to become the longest continuously running play in history, with more than 10 million people to date attending its more than 20,000 performances in London's West End.

When "The Mousetrap" premiered in 1952, Winston Churchill was British prime minister, Joseph Stalin was Soviet ruler, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was president-elect. Christie, already a hugely successful English mystery novelist, originally wrote the drama for Queen Mary, wife of the late King George V. Initially called "Three Blind Mice," it debuted as a 30-minute radio play on the queen's 80th birthday in 1947. Christie later extended the play and renamed it "The Mousetrap"—a reference to the play-within-a-play performed in William Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

On November 25, 1952, 453 people took their seats in the Ambassadors Theatre for the London premiere of Christie's "Mousetrap." The drama is played out at "Monkswell Manor," whose hosts and guests are snowed in among radio reports of a murderer on the loose. Soon a detective shows up on skis with the terrifying news that the murderer, and probably the next victim, are likely both among their number. Soon the clues and false leads pile as high as the snow. At every curtain call, the individual who has been revealed as the murderer steps forward and tells the audience that they are "partners in crime" and should "keep the secret of the whodunit locked in their heart."

Richard Attenborough and his wife, Sheila Sim, were the first stars of "The Mousetrap." To date, more than 300 actors and actresses have appeared in the roles of the eight characters. David Raven, who played "Major Metcalf" for 4,575 performances, is in the "Guinness Book of World Records" as the world's most durable actor, while Nancy Seabrooke is noted as the world's most patient understudy for 6,240 performances, or 15 years, as the substitute for "Mrs. Boyle."

"The Mousetrap" is not considered Christie's best play, and a prominent stage director once declared that "'The Mousetrap'" should be abolished by an act of Parliament." Nevertheless, the show's popularity has not waned. Asked about its enduring appeal, Christie said, "It is the sort of play you can take anyone to. It is not really frightening. It is not really horrible. It is not really a farce, but it has a little bit of all these things, and perhaps that satisfies a lot of different people." In 1974, after almost 9,000 shows, the play was moved to St. Martin's Theatre, where it remains today. Agatha Christie, who wrote scores of best-selling mystery novels, died in 1976.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 24, 1859: Origin of Species is published

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 11:00pm

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, a groundbreaking scientific work by British naturalist Charles Darwin, is published in England. Darwin's theory argued that organisms gradually evolve through a process he called "natural selection." In natural selection, organisms with genetic variations that suit their environment tend to propagate more descendants than organisms of the same species that lack the variation, thus influencing the overall genetic makeup of the species.

Darwin, who was influenced by the work of French naturalist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck and the English economist Thomas Mathus, acquired most of the evidence for his theory during a five-year surveying expedition aboard the HMS Beagle in the 1830s. Visiting such diverse places as the Galapagos Islands and New Zealand, Darwin acquired an intimate knowledge of the flora, fauna, and geology of many lands. This information, along with his studies in variation and interbreeding after returning to England, proved invaluable in the development of his theory of organic evolution.

The idea of organic evolution was not new. It had been suggested earlier by, among others, Darwin's grandfather Erasmus Darwin, a distinguished English scientist, and Lamarck, who in the early 19th century drew the first evolutionary diagram—a ladder leading from one-celled organisms to man. However, it was not until Darwin that science presented a practical explanation for the phenomenon of evolution.

Darwin had formulated his theory of natural selection by 1844, but he was wary to reveal his thesis to the public because it so obviously contradicted the biblical account of creation. In 1858, with Darwin still remaining silent about his findings, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace independently published a paper that essentially summarized his theory. Darwin and Wallace gave a joint lecture on evolution before the Linnean Society of London in July 1858, and Darwin prepared On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection for publication.

Published on November 24, 1859, Origin of Species sold out immediately. Most scientists quickly embraced the theory that solved so many puzzles of biological science, but orthodox Christians condemned the work as heresy. Controversy over Darwin's ideas deepened with the publication of The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), in which he presented evidence of man's evolution from apes.

By the time of Darwin's death in 1882, his theory of evolution was generally accepted. In honor of his scientific work, he was buried in Westminster Abbey beside kings, queens, and other illustrious figures from British history. Subsequent developments in genetics and molecular biology led to modifications in accepted evolutionary theory, but Darwin's ideas remain central to the field.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 23, 1936: First issue of Life is published

Sat, 11/22/2014 - 11:00pm

On November 23, 1936, the first issue of the pictorial magazine Life is published, featuring a cover photo of the Fort Peck Dam by Margaret Bourke-White.

Life actually had its start earlier in the 20th century as a different kind of magazine: a weekly humor publication, not unlike today's The New Yorker in its use of tart cartoons, humorous pieces and cultural reporting. When the original Life folded during the Great Depression, the influential American publisher Henry Luce bought the name and re-launched the magazine as a picture-based periodical on this day in 1936. By this time, Luce had already enjoyed great success as the publisher of Time, a weekly news magazine.

From his high school days, Luce was a newsman, serving with his friend Briton Hadden as managing editors of their school newspaper. This partnership continued through their college years at Yale University, where they acted as chairmen and managing editors of the Yale Daily News, as well as after college, when Luce joined Hadden at The Baltimore News in 1921. It was during this time that Luce and Hadden came up with the idea for Time. When it launched in 1923, it was with the intention of delivering the world's news through the eyes of the people who made it.

Whereas the original mission of Time was to tell the news, the mission of Life was to show it. In the words of Luce himself, the magazine was meant to provide a way for the American people "to see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events ... to see things thousands of miles away... to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed... to see, and to show..." Luce set the tone of the magazine with Margaret Bourke-White's stunning cover photograph of the Fort Peck Dam, which has since become an icon of the 1930s and the great public works completed under President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

Life was an overwhelming success in its first year of publication. Almost overnight, it changed the way people looked at the world by changing the way people could look at the world. Its flourish of images painted vivid pictures in the public mind, capturing the personal and the public, and putting it on display for the world to take in. At its peak, Life had a circulation of over 8 million and it exerted considerable influence on American life in the beginning and middle of the 20th century.

With picture-heavy content as the driving force behind its popularity,the magazine suffered as television became society's predominant means of communication. Life ceased running as a weekly publication in 1972, when it began losing audience and advertising dollars to television. In 2004, however, it resumed weekly publication as a supplement to U.S. newspapers. At its re-launch, its combined circulation was once again in the millions.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 22, 1963: John F. Kennedy assassinated

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 11:00pm

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, is assassinated while traveling through Dallas, Texas, in an open-top convertible.

First lady Jacqueline Kennedy rarely accompanied her husband on political outings, but she was beside him, along with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, for a 10-mile motorcade through the streets of downtown Dallas on November 22. Sitting in a Lincoln convertible, the Kennedys and Connallys waved at the large and enthusiastic crowds gathered along the parade route. As their vehicle passed the Texas School Book Depository Building at 12:30 p.m., Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired three shots from the sixth floor, fatally wounding President Kennedy and seriously injuring Governor Connally. Kennedy was pronounced dead 30 minutes later at Dallas' Parkland Hospital. He was 46.

Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who was three cars behind President Kennedy in the motorcade, was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States at 2:39 p.m. He took the presidential oath of office aboard Air Force One as it sat on the runway at Dallas Love Field airport. The swearing in was witnessed by some 30 people, including Jacqueline Kennedy, who was still wearing clothes stained with her husband's blood. Seven minutes later, the presidential jet took off for Washington.

The next day, November 23, President Johnson issued his first proclamation, declaring November 25 to be a day of national mourning for the slain president. On that Monday, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Washington to watch a horse-drawn caisson bear Kennedy's body from the Capitol Rotunda to St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral for a requiem Mass. The solemn procession then continued on to Arlington National Cemetery, where leaders of 99 nations gathered for the state funeral. Kennedy was buried with full military honors on a slope below Arlington House, where an eternal flame was lit by his widow to forever mark the grave.

Lee Harvey Oswald, born in New Orleans in 1939, joined the U.S. Marines in 1956. He was discharged in 1959 and nine days later left for the Soviet Union, where he tried unsuccessfully to become a citizen. He worked in Minsk and married a Soviet woman and in 1962 was allowed to return to the United States with his wife and infant daughter. In early 1963, he bought a .38 revolver and rifle with a telescopic sight by mail order, and on April 10 in Dallas he allegedly shot at and missed former U.S. Army general Edwin Walker, a figure known for his extreme right-wing views. Later that month, Oswald went to New Orleans and founded a branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro organization. In September 1963, he went to Mexico City, where investigators allege that he attempted to secure a visa to travel to Cuba or return to the USSR. In October, he returned to Dallas and took a job at the Texas School Book Depository Building.

Less than an hour after Kennedy was shot, Oswald killed a policeman who questioned him on the street near his rooming house in Dallas. Thirty minutes later, Oswald was arrested in a movie theater by police responding to reports of a suspect. He was formally arraigned on November 23 for the murders of President Kennedy and Officer J.D. Tippit.

On November 24, Oswald was brought to the basement of the Dallas police headquarters on his way to a more secure county jail. A crowd of police and press with live television cameras rolling gathered to witness his departure. As Oswald came into the room, Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd and fatally wounded him with a single shot from a concealed .38 revolver. Ruby, who was immediately detained, claimed that rage at Kennedy's murder was the motive for his action. Some called him a hero, but he was nonetheless charged with first-degree murder.

Jack Ruby, originally known as Jacob Rubenstein, operated strip joints and dance halls in Dallas and had minor connections to organized crime. He features prominently in Kennedy-assassination theories, and many believe he killed Oswald to keep him from revealing a larger conspiracy. In his trial, Ruby denied the allegation and pleaded innocent on the grounds that his great grief over Kennedy's murder had caused him to suffer "psychomotor epilepsy" and shoot Oswald unconsciously. The jury found Ruby guilty of "murder with malice" and sentenced him to die.

In October 1966, the Texas Court of Appeals reversed the decision on the grounds of improper admission of testimony and the fact that Ruby could not have received a fair trial in Dallas at the time. In January 1967, while awaiting a new trial, to be held in Wichita Falls, Ruby died of lung cancer in a Dallas hospital.

The official Warren Commission report of 1964 concluded that neither Oswald nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy, either domestic or international, to assassinate President Kennedy. Despite its seemingly firm conclusions, the report failed to silence conspiracy theories surrounding the event, and in 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in a preliminary report that Kennedy was "probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy" that may have involved multiple shooters and organized crime. The committee's findings, as with those of the Warren Commission, continue to be widely disputed.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 21, 1980: Millions tune in to find out who shot J.R.

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1980, 350 million people around the world tune in to television's popular primetime drama "Dallas" to find out who shot J.R. Ewing, the character fans loved to hate. J.R. had been shot on the season-ending episode the previous March 21, which now stands as one of television's most famous cliffhangers. The plot twist inspired widespread media coverage and left America wondering "Who shot J.R.?" for the next eight months.  The November 21 episode solved the mystery, identifying Kristin Shepard, J.R.'s wife's sister and his former mistress, as the culprit. 

The CBS television network debuted the first five-episode pilot season of "Dallas" in 1978; it went on to run for another 12 full-length seasons. The first show of its kind, "Dallas" was dubbed a "primetime soap opera" for its serial plots and dramatic tales of moral excess. The show revolved around the relations of two Texas oil families: the wealthy, successful Ewing family and the perpetually down-on-their-luck Barnes family.  The families' patriarchs, Jock Ewing and Digger Barnes, were former partners locked in a years-long feud over oil fields Barnes claimed had been stolen by Ewing.  Ewing's youngest son Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Barnes' daughter Pam (Victoria Principal) had married, linking the battling clans even more closely.  The character of J.R. Ewing, Bobby's oldest brother and a greedy, conniving, womanizing scoundrel, was played by Larry Hagman. 

As J.R. had many enemies, audiences were hard-pressed to guess who was responsible for his attempted murder. That summer, the question "Who Shot J.R.?" entered the national lexicon, becoming a popular t-shirt slogan, and heightening anticipation of the soap's third season, which was to air in the fall. After a much-talked-about contract dispute with Hagman was finally settled, the season was delayed because of a Screen Actors Guild strike, much to the dismay of "Dallas" fans. When it finally aired, the episode revealing J.R.'s shooter became one of television's most watched shows, with an audience of 83 million people in the U.S. alone—a full 76 percent of all U.S. televisions on that night were tuned in—and helped put "Dallas" into greater worldwide circulation.  It also popularized the use of the cliffhanger by television writers. 

The shooting of J.R. wasn't "Dallas'" only notorious plot twist. In September 1986, fans learned that the entire previous season, in which main character Bobby Ewing had died, was merely a dream of Pam's. The show's writers had killed the Bobby character off because Duffy had decided to leave the show. When he agreed to return, they featured him stepping out of the shower on the season-ending cliffhanger, and then were forced the next season to explain his sudden reappearance.

The last premiere episode of "Dallas" aired on May 3, 1991. A spin-off, "Knots Landing," aired from December 27, 1979 until May 13, 1993. "Dallas" remains in syndication around the world.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 20, 1945: Nuremberg trials begin

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 11:00pm

Twenty-four high-ranking Nazis go on trial in Nuremberg, Germany, for atrocities committed during World War II.

The Nuremberg Trials were conducted by an international tribunal made up of representatives from the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Great Britain. It was the first trial of its kind in history, and the defendants faced charges ranging from crimes against peace, to crimes of war, to crimes against humanity. Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence, the British member, presided over the proceedings, which lasted 10 months and consisted of 216 court sessions.

On October 1, 1946, 12 architects of Nazi policy were sentenced to death. Seven others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life, and three were acquitted. Of the original 24 defendants, one, Robert Ley, committed suicide while in prison, and another, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, was deemed mentally and physically incompetent to stand trial. Among those condemned to death by hanging were Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi minister of foreign affairs; Hermann Goering, leader of the Gestapo and the Luftwaffe; Alfred Jodl, head of the German armed forces staff; and Wilhelm Frick, minister of the interior.

On October 16, 10 of the architects of Nazi policy were hanged. Goering, who at sentencing was called the "leading war aggressor and creator of the oppressive program against the Jews," committed suicide by poison on the eve of his scheduled execution. Nazi Party leader Martin Bormann was condemned to death in absentia (but is now believed to have died in May 1945). Trials of lesser German and Axis war criminals continued in Germany into the 1950s and resulted in the conviction of 5,025 other defendants and the execution of 806.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 19, 1863: Lincoln delivers Gettysburg Address

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 11:00pm

On November 19, 1863, at the dedication of a military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivers one of the most memorable speeches in American history. In just 272 words, Lincoln brilliantly and movingly reminded a war-weary public why the Union had to fight, and win, the Civil War.

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought some four months earlier, was the single bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Over the course of three days, more than 45,000 men were killed, injured, captured or went missing.  The battle also proved to be the turning point of the war: General Robert E. Lee's defeat and retreat from Gettysburg marked the last Confederate invasion of Northern territory and the beginning of the Southern army's ultimate decline.

Charged by Pennsylvania's governor, Andrew Curtin, to care for the Gettysburg dead, an attorney named David Wills bought 17 acres of pasture to turn into a cemetery for the more than 7,500 who fell in battle. Wills invited Edward Everett, one of the most famous orators of the day, to deliver a speech at the cemetery's dedication. Almost as an afterthought, Wills also sent a letter to Lincoln—just two weeks before the ceremony—requesting "a few appropriate remarks" to consecrate the grounds.

At the dedication, the crowd listened for two hours to Everett before Lincoln spoke. Lincoln's address lasted just two or three minutes. The speech reflected his redefined belief that the Civil War was not just a fight to save the Union, but a struggle for freedom and equality for all, an idea Lincoln had not championed in the years leading up to the war. This was his stirring conclusion: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Reception of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was initially mixed, divided strictly along partisan lines. Nevertheless, the "little speech," as he later called it, is thought by many today to be the most eloquent articulation of the democratic vision ever written.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 18, 1991: Terry Waite released

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 11:00pm

Shiite Muslim kidnappers in Lebanon free Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite after more than four years of captivity. Waite, looking thinner and his hair grayer, was freed along with American educator Thomas M. Sutherland after intense negotiations by the United Nations.

Waite, special envoy of the archbishop of Canterbury, had secured the release of missionaries detained in Iran after the Islamic revolution. He also extracted British hostages from Libya and even succeeded in releasing American hostages from Lebanon in 1986.

A total of 10 captives were released through Waite's efforts before Shiite Muslims seized him during a return mission to Beirut on January 20, 1987. He was held captive for more than four years before he was finally released.

During captivity, Waite said he was frequently blindfolded, beaten and subjected to mock executions. He spent much of the time chained to a radiator, suffered from asthma and was transported in a giant refrigerator as his captors moved him about.

Waite, 52, made an impromptu, chaotic appearance before reporters in Damascus after his release to Syrian officials. He said one of his captors expressed regret as he informed Waite he was about to be released.

"He also said to me: 'We apologize for having captured you. We recognize that now this was a wrong thing to do, that holding hostages achieves no useful, constructive purpose,'" Waite said.

The release of Waite and Sutherland left five Western hostages left in Beirut—three Americans, including Terry Anderson, and two Germans. The Americans would be released by December 1991, the Germans in June 1992.

Some 96 foreign hostages were taken and held during the Lebanon hostage crisis between 1982 and 1992. The victims were mostly from Western countries, and mostly journalists, diplomats or teachers. Twenty-five of them were Americans. At least 10 hostages died in captivity. Some were murdered and others died from lack of adequate medical attention to illnesses.

The hostages were originally taken to serve as insurance against retaliation against Hezbollah, which was thought to be responsible for the killing of over 300 Americans in the Marine barracks and embassy bombings in Beirut. It was widely believed that Iran and Syria also played a role in the kidnappings.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 17, 1558: Elizabethan Age begins

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 11:00pm

Queen Mary I, the monarch of England and Ireland since 1553, dies and is succeeded by her 25-year-old half-sister, Elizabeth.

The two half-sisters, both daughters of King Henry VIII, had a stormy relationship during Mary's five-year reign. Mary, who was brought up as a Catholic, enacted pro-Catholic legislation and made efforts to restore the pope to supremacy in England. A Protestant rebellion ensued, and Queen Mary imprisoned Elizabeth, a Protestant, in the Tower of London on suspicion of complicity. After Mary's death, Elizabeth survived several Catholic plots against her; though her ascension was greeted with approval by most of England's lords, who were largely Protestant and hoped for greater religious tolerance under a Protestant queen. Under the early guidance of Secretary of State Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth repealed Mary's pro-Catholic legislation, established a permanent Protestant Church of England, and encouraged the Calvinist reformers in Scotland.

In foreign affairs, Elizabeth practiced a policy of strengthening England's Protestant allies and dividing her foes. Elizabeth was opposed by the pope, who refused to recognize her legitimacy, and by Spain, a Catholic nation that was at the height of its power. In 1588, English-Spanish rivalry led to an abortive Spanish invasion of England in which the Spanish Armada, the greatest naval force in the world at the time, was destroyed by storms and a determined English navy.

With increasing English domination at sea, Elizabeth encouraged voyages of discovery, such as Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the world and Sir Walter Raleigh's expeditions to the North American coast.

The long reign of Elizabeth, who became known as the "Virgin Queen" for her reluctance to endanger her authority through marriage, coincided with the flowering of the English Renaissance, associated with such renowned authors as William Shakespeare. By her death in 1603, England had become a major world power in every respect, and Queen Elizabeth I passed into history as one of England's greatest monarchs.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 16, 1532: Pizarro traps Incan emperor Atahualpa

Sat, 11/15/2014 - 11:00pm

On November 16, 1532, Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish explorer and conquistador, springs a trap on the Incan emperor, Atahualpa. With fewer than 200 men against several thousand, Pizarro lures Atahualpa to a feast in the emperor's honor and then opens fire on the unarmed Incans. Pizarro's men massacre the Incans and capture Atahualpa, forcing him to convert to Christianity before eventually killing him.

Pizarro's timing for conquest was perfect. By 1532, the Inca Empire was embroiled in a civil war that had decimated the population and divided the people's loyalties. Atahualpa, the younger son of former Incan ruler Huayna Capac, had just deposed his half-brother Huascar and was in the midst of reuniting his kingdom when Pizarro arrived in 1531, with the endorsement of Spain's King Charles V. On his way to the Incan capital, Pizarro learned of the war and began recruiting soldiers still loyal to Huascar.

Pizarro met Atahualpa just outside Cajamarca, a small Incan town tucked into a valley of the Andes. Sending his brother Hernan as an envoy, Pizarro invited Atahualpa back to Cajamarca for a feast in honor of Atahualpa's ascendance to the throne. Though he had nearly 80,000 soldiers with him in the mountains, Atahualpa consented to attend the feast with only 5,000 unarmed men. He was met by Vicente de Valverde, a friar traveling with Pizarro. While Pizarro's men lay in wait, Valverde urged Atahualpa to convert and accept Charles V as sovereign. Atahualpa angrily refused, prompting Valverde to give the signal for Pizarro to open fire. Trapped in tight quarters, the panicking Incan soldiers made easy prey for the Spanish. Pizarro's men slaughtered the 5,000 Incans in just an hour. Pizarro himself suffered the only Spanish injury: a cut on his hand sustained as he saved Atahualpa from death.

Realizing Atahualpa was initially more valuable alive than dead, Pizarro kept the emperor in captivity while he made plans to take over his empire. In response, Atahualpa appealed to his captors' greed, offering them a room full of gold and silver in exchange for his liberation. Pizarro consented, but after receiving the ransom, Pizarro brought Atahualpa up on charges of stirring up rebellion. By that time, Atahualpa had played his part in pacifying the Incans while Pizarro secured his power, and Pizarro considered him disposable. Atahualpa was to be burned at the stake—the Spanish believed this to be a fitting death for a heathen—but at the last moment, Valverde offered the emperor clemency if he would convert. Atahualpa submitted, only to be executed by strangulation. The day was August 29, 1533.

Fighting between the Spanish and the Incas would continue well after Atahualpa's death as Spain consolidated its conquests. Pizarro's bold victory at Cajamarca, however, effectively marked the end of the Inca Empire and the beginning of the European colonization of South America.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 15, 1867: First stock ticker debuts

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1867, the first stock ticker is unveiled in New York City. The advent of the ticker ultimately revolutionized the stock market by making up-to-the-minute prices available to investors around the country. Prior to this development, information from the New York Stock Exchange, which has been around since 1792, traveled by mail or messenger.

The ticker was the brainchild of Edward Calahan, who configured a telegraph machine to print stock quotes on streams of paper tape (the same paper tape later used in ticker-tape parades). The ticker, which caught on quickly with investors, got its name from the sound its type wheel made.

Calahan worked for the Gold & Stock Telegraph Company, which rented its tickers to brokerage houses and regional exchanges for a fee and then transmitted the latest gold and stock prices to all its machines at the same time. In 1869, Thomas Edison, a former telegraph operator, patented an improved, easier-to-use version of Calahan's ticker. Edison's ticker was his first lucrative invention and, through the manufacture and sale of stock tickers and other telegraphic devices, he made enough money to open his own lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he developed the light bulb and phonograph, among other transformative inventions.

The last mechanical stock ticker debuted in 1960 and was eventually replaced by computerized tickers with electronic displays. A ticker shows a stock's symbol, how many shares have traded that day and the price per share. It also tells how much the price has changed from the previous day's closing price and whether it's an up or down change. A common misconception is that there is one ticker used by everyone. In fact, private data companies run a variety of tickers; each provides information about a select mix of stocks.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 14, 1851: Moby-Dick published

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1851, Moby-Dick, a novel by Herman Melville about the voyage of the whaling ship Pequod, is published by Harper & Brothers in New York. Moby-Dick is now considered a great classic of American literature and contains one of the most famous opening lines in fiction: "Call me Ishmael." Initially, though, the book about Captain Ahab and his quest for a giant white whale was a flop.

Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819 and as a young man spent time in the merchant marines, the U.S. Navy and on a whaling ship in the South Seas. In 1846, he published his first novel, Typee, a romantic adventure based on his experiences in Polynesia. The book was a success and a sequel, Omoo, was published in 1847. Three more novels followed, with mixed critical and commercial results. Melville's sixth book, Moby-Dick, was first published in October 1851 in London, in three volumes titled The Whale, and then in the U.S. a month later. Melville had promised his publisher an adventure story similar to his popular earlier works, but instead, Moby-Dick was a tragic epic, influenced in part by Melville's friend and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, neighbor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose novels include The Scarlet Letter.

After Moby-Dick's disappointing reception, Melville continued to produce novels, short stories (Bartleby) and poetry, but writing wasn't paying the bills so in 1865 he returned to New York to work as a customs inspector, a job he held for 20 years.

Melville died in 1891, largely forgotten by the literary world. By the 1920s, scholars had rediscovered his work, particularly Moby-Dick, which would eventually become a staple of high school reading lists across the United States. Billy Budd, Melville's final novel, was published in 1924, 33 years after his death.

Categories: Fun Stuff

November 13, 1982: Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedicated

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 11:00pm

Near the end of a weeklong national salute to Americans who served in the Vietnam War, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated in Washington after a march to its site by thousands of veterans of the conflict. The long-awaited memorial was a simple V-shaped black-granite wall inscribed with the names of the 57,939 Americans who died in the conflict, arranged in order of death, not rank, as was common in other memorials.

The designer of the memorial was Maya Lin, a Yale University architecture student who entered a nationwide competition to create a design for the monument. Lin, born in Ohio in 1959, was the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Many veterans' groups were opposed to Lin's winning design, which lacked a standard memorial's heroic statues and stirring words. However, a remarkable shift in public opinion occurred in the months after the memorial's dedication. Veterans and families of the dead walked the black reflective wall, seeking the names of their loved ones killed in the conflict. Once the name was located, visitors often made an etching or left a private offering, from notes and flowers to dog tags and cans of beer.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial soon became one of the most visited memorials in the nation's capital. A Smithsonian Institution director called it "a community of feelings, almost a sacred precinct," and a veteran declared that "it's the parade we never got." "The Wall" drew together both those who fought and those who marched against the war and served to promote national healing a decade after the divisive conflict's end.

Categories: Fun Stuff