February 14th in history:
James K. Polk posed for photographer Mathew Brady on February 14th, 1849, less than a month before leaving the White House. It appears to be the first time that an incumbent U.S. president posed for a solo photograph. President Polk had been photographed earlier in his term, in a group shot with members of his cabinet.
Television cameras came to the White House on Valentine’s Day, 1962, for a prime-time tour of the mansion, hosted by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The tour was shown on all three major networks.
George Washington never slept in the White House, but George Washington Slept Here was the name of a popular movie starring comedian Jack Benny, born February 14th, 1894. Benny had a weekly show on radio, and then TV, for over 30 years, built around his character of a cheapskate who played the violin badly and always claimed to be 39 years old. Benny’s hometown of Waukegan, Illinois, named a school after him in the 1960s. The sports teams at Benny Middle School are nicknamed the 39ers.
Jack Benny was born in Chicago, not Waukegan. On his 35th birthday in 1929, seven men were shot to death in a Chicago garage, in what became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the most famous gangster-related murders of the 1920s. The victims were associated with the “Bugs” Moran gang in Chicago. Rival gang leader Al Capone was blamed for the killings. In the 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon escape Chicago by posing as women after witnessing the Massacre.
January 24th in history:
The California Gold Rush was triggered on January 24th, 1848, when James Marshall found gold at Sutter’s Mill. Most of the U.S. didn’t hear about the discovery until late in ’48, when President James K. Polk mentioned the gold rush in his State of the Union message. The treasure hunters who went to California in the months afterward became known as ’49ers.
Today’s 49ers, the NFL team from San Francisco, played in the Super Bowl for the first time on January 24, 1982, at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. They won Super Bowl XVI by a 26-21 score over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The ring awarded to Super Bowl winners is made of gold and decorated with diamonds. January 24th is the birthday of Olympic gold-medal winner Mary Lou Retton (born 1968) and singer-songwriter Neil Diamond (1941).
The Super Bowl didn’t become known for clever and expensive TV commercials until Apple Computers did a parody of the book “1984” to introduce its new Macintosh personal computer. The Super Bowl ad ran two days before the Mac officially went on sale January 24th, 1984.
December 5 in history:
George Washington became America’s first two-term president in 1792. On December 5th that year, the Electoral College unanimously chose Washington to continue as president. John Adams was re-elected as vice president.
Adams and his son, John Quincy, both were one-term presidents. On December 5th, 1831, John Quincy Adams took office as a Congressman, two years after serving his single term in the White House. Adams was chosen as president by the U.S. House after the 1824 election, when he lost the popular vote to Andrew Jackson.
Al Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential race, but lost in the Electoral College to George W. Bush. Gore’s father, long-time Tennessee Senator Albert Gore Sr., died on this date in 1998. George W. Bush served two terms as president, four years longer than his father, George Herbert Walker Bush…the most recent president defeated after a single term. A state funeral for the elder President Bush was held in Washington on December 5th, 2018.
The first single-term U.S. president who was not named “Adams” was Martin Van Buren, born on this day in 1782. Van Buren was the first U.S. president born after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
James K. Polk was Speaker of the House under President Van Buren. Polk also became president for just one term, and is credited with setting off the California gold rush during his last months in office. In his State of the Union message to Congress on December 5th, 1848, Polk announced that gold had been discovered in the California territory earlier that year, and he claimed that most male residents of the territory were busy searching for gold.