July 7th in history:
On this date in 1958, President Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood Act, making Alaska the 49th state – and the biggest state in size. Alaska was admitted officially the following January.
Construction of Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam) began on July 7th, 1930. At the time it was completed, the 700-foot high dam on the Colorado River was the largest concrete structure in the world.
Was Boulder Dam “the greatest thing since sliced bread”? Maybe not, but pre-sliced bread was considered a big thing when it was introduced on July 7th, 1928, by a bakery in Chillicothe, Missouri. That innovation was advertised as the “greatest forward step” in baking since wrapped bread.
May 22nd in history:
Only two volcanic eruptions occurred in the U.S. during the 20th century. One was the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. The other happened on May 22nd, 1915, with an explosion at Lassen Peak in northern California.
Another powerful act of nature, an earthquake, struck southern Chile on this date in 1960, killing thousands of people. Known as the Valdivia quake, it was the strongest earthquake ever recorded, measuring 9.5 on the Richter Scale. Severe tornadoes also have occurred on May 22nd, in Hallam, Nebraska (in 2004) and Joplin, Missouri (2011). The Joplin twister caused more than 150 deaths, and was the deadliest tornado in the U.S. in more than 60 years.
Wreckage from an airplane explosion fell from the sky onto Missouri and Iowa on May 22nd, 1962, when a Continental Airlines flight between Chicago and Kansas City blew up. All 45 people aboard were killed. One of the passengers, who had earlier taken out a large insurance policy, apparently planted a bomb in a restroom. The tragedy reportedly inspired part of the plot of the 1970 movie “Airport.”
In May of 1962, Iowa native Johnny Carson was preparing to take over NBC’s “Tonight Show.” He had just been hired to replace the departing Jack Paar. Carson stayed on as host of “Tonight” longer than any other person, almost 30 years, ending his run on May 22nd, 1992.
Another TV personality named “Johnny” made his debut on this day in 1910: that was the birthdate of announcer Johnny Olson, who’s most famous for shouting “Come on down!” to contestants on “The Price Is Right.” Olson also served as the announcer on “What’s My Line?,” “Match Game,” and “The Jackie Gleason Show.”
May 11th in history:
Nova Roma, not Constantinople …
On May 11th, 330 A.D., the city of Byzantium was renamed “Nova Roma” by Roman emperor Constantine I. After he died, the city became known as “Constantinople.”
Siam changed its name to Thailand on May 11th, 1949.
Shortly after he was killed in Vietnam on this day in 1972, the remains of Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie were sent to Thailand for storage. Eventually, the remains were returned to the U.S., but Blassie’s identity could not be confirmed, and he became the Unknown Soldier for the Vietnam War. He was buried at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery from 1984 until 1998, when his identity was proved. Blassie was re-buried in Missouri.
The composer who wrote “God Bless America” and “White Christmas” was born Israel Baline in Russia on May 11th, 1888. He spelled his last name “Beilin” when he became a songwriter, but when it was misspelled “Berlin” on the sheet music for his first published song, he adopted the name Irving Berlin.
And actor Philip Silver changed his name to Phil Silvers, although TV audiences of the ’50s knew him better as “Sergeant Bilko.” Silvers, born on this day in 1911, also starred in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and his TV production company Gladasya made “Gilligan’s Island”, on which he guest-starred as producer Harold Hecuba.
April 3rd in history:
The first run of the Pony Express between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California began on April 3rd, 1860.
Laptop computers have become a favorite means of communication for many people. IBM’s first laptop was introduced on April 3rd, 1986.
Former college professor Ted Kaczynski sent messages to the media complaining about modern technology. His crusade against technology also included bombings which killed three people. Kaczynski, better known as the “Unabomber,” was arrested at a cabin in Montana on April 3rd, 1996.
The first portable “cell phone” call made in New York City happened on this date in 1973.
Actor Alec Baldwin was once removed from an airplane parked at the Los Angeles airport when he refused to stop playing a word game on his cell phone. Baldwin, born on this date in 1958, played fictional TV network boss Jack Donaghy on the sitcom “30 Rock.” He has also gained popularity for his comic impersonation of President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.”
And telephone calls are a major element to the plot of “Pillow Talk,” the only movie for which Doris Day received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Day publicly celebrated her 90th birthday in 2014, but birth records in Ohio show that she was born on April 3rd, 1922, not 1924.
March 31st in history:
The battleship Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered to the U.S. to end World War II, was decommissioned on March 31st, 1992.
President Lyndon Johnson called for peace talks with North Vietnam in a live TV address on this date in 1968. Johnson surprised the nation when he ended his speech that night by declaring he would not seek another term as president.
Johnson’s withdrawal from the ’68 race may have helped Richard Nixon win the election that fall. Nixon’s future son-in-law, David Eisenhower (Ike’s grandson), turned 20 the day of LBJ’s speech. So did future Vice President Al Gore.
Many famous movies about the Vietnam War were not made until years after LBJ and Nixon left office. The Deer Hunter (1978) was the first Vietnam movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Christopher Walken, born March 31st, 1943, won the supporting actor Oscar for his role in Deer Hunter. Walken also has appeared in the movie musicals Pennies from Heaven and Hairspray, and as a frequent host of “Saturday Night Live.” He shares a birthday with fellow Oscar winner Shirley Jones (born 1934), best known for musical roles in Oklahoma! and The Music Man, and as singing mom Shirley Partridge on “The Partridge Family.”
Walken’s Deer Hunter co-star Robert De Niro won the Best Actor award for Raging Bull at the Oscars on March 31st, 1981. The ceremony had been delayed by one day because of the assassination attempt against President Reagan.
February 15th in history:
The red-and-white Maple Leaf flag first flew over Canada on February 15th, 1965.
That same year, the last piece of the Gateway Arch was put in place, 600 feet over the city of St. Louis, Missouri. The Arch has become the most visible symbol of St. Louis, established on February 15th, 1764.
Another arch was immortalized in a tune by songwriter Harold Arlen, born on this day in 1905. He wrote the music to “Over the Rainbow” and the other songs in “The Wizard of Oz.”
If you wanted to sing “Over the Rainbow” over the Internet, you might post a video on YouTube. February 15th, 2005 was the first full day of operation for the do-it-yourself video website, but there were no videos to watch until the following April, when founder Jawed Karim posted a clip of himself visiting the San Diego Zoo.
February 13th in history:
American painter Grant Wood was born in Iowa on February 13th, 1891. Wood created the famous 1930 painting “American Gothic,” showing a farmer and his daughter standing outside their house.
Another Midwestern artist, Charles Schulz, achieved fame and fortune drawing Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the other “Peanuts” characters. Schulz chose to stop drawing the comic strip after 50 years, and coincidentally died the day before the last original “Peanuts” cartoon appeared in newspapers on February 13th, 2000.
And Jesse James and his gang drew their guns and held up a Midwestern bank (in Liberty, Missouri) on February 13th, 1866. It’s said to be the first armed robbery ever committed in the U.S. during peace-time.