Category: Today in history

FASTER, HIGHER, FARTHER

March 23rd in history:

Two pioneers of speed were born on March 23rd: Roger Bannister (1925), the first man to run a four-minute mile, and driver Craig Breedlove (1937), who was the first man to break a number of land-speed records.

Thanks to inventor Elisha Otis, buildings could rise higher than before – once his safety elevator came into common usage. Otis installed his first passenger elevator in a New York City building on March 23rd, 1857.

Explorers Lewis and Clark went as far as they could go in the western U.S. when they reached the Pacific Ocean. On this date in 1806, they began their journey home from the west coast.

The U.S. had never put two men in space at the same time until March 23rd, 1965, when astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young orbited the Earth three times aboard Gemini 3. Young got into trouble with NASA when he sneaked a corned beef sandwich into the space capsule, and tried to eat it in zero gravity.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

March 22nd in history:

It can be used to perform surgery, or play a DVD. It was even used as a deadly weapon against James Bond. The laser beam developed by Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes was given a U.S. patent on March 22nd, 1960.

James Bond doesn’t usually work with a partner, but TV secret agent James West had a regular partner on “The Wild Wild West”: master of disguise Artemus Gordon, played by Ross Martin, born March 22nd, 1920.   Early in his career, Martin was part of a comedy team with a partner named West — Bernie West, who wrote for “All in the Family” and was co-creator of “Three’s Company.”

Born the same day and year as Ross Martin was Werner Klemperer, who played Col. Klink, the commandant of Stalag 13 on “Hogan’s Heroes.”  “Wild Wild West” and “Hogan’s Heroes” aired back-to-back Friday nights on CBS for two years in the 1960s.

One “Wild Wild West” episode featured an audience watching a motion picture in which Artemus comically impersonated President Ulysses Grant.  The story was set years before the Lumiere brothers actually projected a movie on a screen in Paris, on this day in 1895.  That event is considered the first-ever private screening of motion pictures for an audience.

Several people who have won Oscars for their movie work were born on March 22nd: actors Karl Malden (born 1912), Haing S. Ngor (1940), and Reese Witherspoon (1976), and composers Stephen Sondheim (1930) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (1948).

I GET KNOCKED DOWN, THEN I GET UP AGAIN

March 21st in history:

On March 21st, 1871, Otto von Bismarck became the first chancellor of the German empire, when Prussia unified with other states to form Germany. Bismarck had been the prime minister of Prussia before that.

During a ski-jumping contest in West Germany on this date in 1970, a Yugoslavian jumper named Vinko Bogataj wiped out at the end of the ramp and tumbled into the crowd. Bogotaj recovered, and became famous when his spill was used to illustrate “the agony of defeat” in the opening credits for “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

Olympic athletes in America experienced the agony of not competing in the Moscow Summer Games, after President Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. would boycott the Games, to protest the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  On March 21st, 1980, Carter met with U.S. Olympians, urging them to respect his declaration of a boycott.

As a result of the boycott, NBC cancelled its plans to cover the Moscow Olympics.  Meanwhile, Americans had a different game to hold their attention in the summer of 1980…trying to guess “Who shot J.R.?”  On the same day of Carter’s meeting with the athletes, the popular CBS series “Dallas” ended its season by showing J.R. Ewing (played by Larry Hagman) being shot and wounded by someone offscreen.  When the shooter’s identity was revealed the following November, a record TV audience in the U.S. tuned in for the answer.  Hagman was starring in a cable TV revival of “Dallas” when he died in 2012…and the writers killed off J.R. by shooting him, again.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

March 20th in history:

The Republican Party was founded on March 20th, 1854 in Ripon, Wisconsin.  Many of the founders intended to establish a political party that was anti-slavery.

The start of the GOP came exactly two years after the March 20th, 1852, publication of the anti-slavery novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“A Doll’s House” is one of the best-known works of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, born on this day in 1828.  Born exactly 100 years later on March 20th, 1928: public TV personality Fred Rogers, who didn’t just create a house, but a whole neighborhood as “Mister Rogers.”

Miniature houses and other structures were shown at the start of each episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”  Miniature versions of New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., made out of Lego blocks, are one of the attractions at the Legoland California theme park, which opened near Carlsbad on March 20th, 1999.

HIGH NOON AND OTHER TIMES

March 19th in history:

On March 19th, 1918, Congress approved Daylight Saving Time and the formation of time zones across the country.

The first Academy Awards broadcast on television started at 10:30 Eastern Time (7:30 Pacific Time) on March 19th, 1953. The program originated both in Hollywood and New York. Gary Cooper was named Best Actor for playing the marshal in “High Noon.”

Real-life Western lawman Wyatt Earp was born on March 19th, 1848. Earp has been a character in many movies, including “Sunset” (1988), featuring Bruce Willis (born on this day in 1955) as movie cowboy Tom Mix.

PIONEERS AND QUEENS

March 18th in history:

On March 18th, 1850, businessmen William Fargo and Henry Wells combined their express mail businesses to start American Express. They started another famous delivery and banking company a short time later, known for its wagons crossing the American frontier, with Wells getting first billing.

Aleksei Leonov stepped into space (the final frontier) on this day in 1965. The Soviet cosmonaut was the first human to take a “space walk,” lasting 12 minutes, as part of the Voskhod 2 mission.

The governor-general of Canada became a pioneer on this date in 1893, when he pledged to donate a silver challenge cup to the best hockey team in Canada. The cup still exists, only now it’s awarded to the best team in the National Hockey League. And it still bears the name of its donor, Lord Frederick Stanley.

Stanley was appointed to the Canadian post by England’s Queen Victoria. March 18th is the birthday of Mary Tudor, Queen of France (born to the King and Queen of England in 1496)…singer and actress Queen Latifah (born Dana Owens in 1970)…and a beauty queen, former Miss America Vanessa Williams (born 1963).

NEW YORKERS AND GOING GREEN

March 17th in history:

Franklin D. Roosevelt resigned from the New York State Senate on March 17th, 1913, to become assistant secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. It was his eighth wedding anniversary. In the next 20 years, Roosevelt would become a vice-presidential candidate, governor of New York and president of the United States.

Eliot Spitzer had been governor of New York for just over a year when he resigned on this date in 2008, after a prostitution scandal in which he admitted to being a client of an escort agency.

New Yorkers like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a big parade in Manhattan. The Irish holiday was celebrated in New York City for the first time on March 17th, 1756.

St. Patrick’s Day is the birthday of two actors who have starred in movies and TV shows about New York City: Kurt Russell (born 1951), who played Snake Plissken in the action drama Escape from New York; and Gary Sinise (1955), Mac Taylor from “CSI: New York,” also known as Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump.

Sinise also played real-life astronaut Ken Mattingly in the movie Apollo 13. Mattingly was born March 17th, 1936. He was pulled from the Apollo 13 mission days before its launch in 1970 after being exposed to German measles, so he missed being aboard the spacecraft that had to return to Earth after an explosion. Mattingly did get to circle the moon two years later, as the command module pilot of Apollo 16.