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This Day in History
Lawrence of Arabia dies, 1935
T.E. Lawrence, known to the world as Lawrence of Arabia, dies as a retired Royal Air Force mechanic living under an assumed name. The legendary war hero, author…
Here at History.com, we’re excited about the upcoming television event Mankind The Story of All of Us, which premieres Tuesday, November 13, at 9/8c. We’ve also been hard at work putting together videos, online features and interactives related to the series. Stay tuned for more, but in the meantime get a sneak peek below with still photography from the shoot and a video preview!
Millions of viewers were glued to their television screens yesterday as skydiver Felix Baumgartner made his world record-breaking jump over Roswell, New Mexico. Encased in a state-of-the-art pressurized suit, Baumgartner leaped from a balloon positioned 24 miles above Earth, hurtling toward the ground at speeds in excess of 800 miles an hour. Baumgartner’s stunt, in which he became the first person to break the sound barrier during a skydive, came 65 years to the day after test pilot Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound, on October 14, 1947. As I watched the news coverage of Baumgartner’s stunt, I wondered if Yeager himself was among those tuning in to see humanity’s latest attempt to conquer the skies.
As it turns out, he wasn’t. Instead, the 89-year-old retired Air Force vet spent Sunday morning recreating his own historic flight, albeit with a few key differences. In 1947, Yeager’s experimental plane, nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis,” needed a helping hand to make it into the record books. The plane was lifted to an altitude of 25,000 feet by a B-29 bomber, then released into the atmosphere for the final stretch of its supersonic flight, topping out at around 662 miles an hour. Yesterday, at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nevada, Yeager climbed aboard another Air Force jet, but this time it was an F-15 Eagle more than capable of reaching great heights—and speeds—on its own. After handling takeoff duties, Yeager passed the controls to a (presumably younger) co-pilot and settled in for the ride, 33,000 feet above the same Mojave Desert landscape he’d blazed across in 1947. At 10:24 a.m. PST, 65 years to the minute after the famous feat of his youth, Yeager’s plane once again broke the sound barrier, clocking in around Mach 1.3—just slightly faster than Baumgartner’s maximum speed in his jump later that day. Minutes later, Yeager took the controls again, bringing the jet in for a smooth landing.
Congratulations to both of yesterday’s trailblazers!
Last month, I wrote an article about a fascinating project going on at the University of Leicester: the search for King Richard III’s remains. On September 12, archaeologists announced the discovery of two human skeletons under a parking lot where the Grey Friars Church—thought to have been the ruler’s final resting place—once stood. Researchers are now trying to recover DNA from the male skeleton and test it against samples from one of the king’s descendants. Neat, right?
I’ve been looking forward to an update on the project, so I was excited to receive a press release from the university a few days ago. It describes a new chapter in the quest to unearth Richard III—one that will unfold almost entirely in images. The search has inspired comic artist Emma Vieceli, who provided illustrations for the press conference announcing the parking lot find, to create a graphic novel about the life of the slain medieval king. In keeping with the subject matter, her art will take a cue from the illuminated manuscripts, stained glass windows and tapestries of Richard’s era. “So much can be told in an illustration that can be conveyed quickly and easily to any culture, with no need for translation,” she explained in the press release. “Images can bring characters and events to life in different ways to prose. Comics in particular combine prose and images.”
As a preview, Vieceli and the University of Leicester have released a series of images depicting Richard’s demise and the recent dig. Take a look below, and check out the University of Leicester’s website for ongoing updates on the search. I hope I’ll get the chance to cover this incredible project again soon.
The election season might just now be getting into full swing, but another presidential race has captivated much of the nation recently. For the last seven years, one of our former presidents has tasted defeat in over 500 races—until yesterday. That’s right—Teddy Roosevelt finally won the Presidents Race during the fourth inning of the Washington Nationals’ last game of the season on Wednesday afternoon.
Teddy’s losing streak was perpetuated by terrible luck and outright cheating by the other presidential participants—Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson. On many occasions, Teddy seemed to have victory secured but was tripped up by panthers, monkeys and other unsanctioned participants surely hired by the other ex-presidents (I’m looking at you, Washington). Elmo even cost him the race once. There was seemingly nothing Teddy could do to win.
Enter marketing executive Scott Ableman. Ableman created Let Teddy Win, a website dedicated to exposing and ending this injustice by convincing the Nationals to let the Hero of San Juan Hill finally taste victory. Baseball fans all over the country became involved in the cause, including Senator John McCain. McCain appeared in an ESPN video spoofing the losing streak, demanding that the Nationals show the Rough Rider the respect he deserved. The senator showed up again on Tuesday to give TR a pep talk going into Wednesday’s game.
Sporting golden sneakers resembling those worn by Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, Teddy started off slowly in the final race of 2012. However, the other three presidents soon got a taste of their own medicine when an imposter posing as the Philadelphia Phillies’ mascot, the Phillie Phanatic, appeared from behind an outfield wall and sent them all crashing to the ground. Teddy kicked it into high gear and sped to the front of the line, finishing first.
The streak was over. Roosevelt wins! Roosevelt wins! While the Nationals had clinched a division title the day before, this was clearly the biggest win of the season. There are rumors afoot that the Nationals plan on retiring Teddy from future races, but we hope he gets to take the victory lap every commander-in-chief deserves. Congratulations, Teddy!
I’m back with the full story behind another of the interesting facts I’ve been compiling for an upcoming interactive. We’ll be launching the project later this month, so make sure to check back for more updates. Until then, I hope you enjoy this quick tale!
Did you know that the world’s first traffic signal predated the automobile by almost 20 years?
Traffic has been causing headaches seemingly as long as man has been on the move. In ancient Rome, congestion was so bad that wheeled vehicles were banned from the city during daytime hours. More than 18 centuries later, the Industrial Revolution saw an explosion in urban populations that left many city streets overcrowded and dangerous. Not surprisingly, finding a way of easing this congestion of wagons, buggies and humans became increasingly important during the late 19th century.
No city on earth was more in need of help than London, England, already home to 1 million people. In 1866 alone more than 1,100 people were killed (and another 1,300 were wounded) in traffic accidents. With the public clamoring for a solution, British railway engineer and superintendent John Peake “J.P.” Knight testified before the British House of Commons on the need to control traffic on the city’s busy, congested streets. Parliament approved, providing funds for Knight to engineer a solution.
His resulting concept was quite simple. Intended to mimic the arm movements of police manually directing traffic, his design was a tall pole with two semaphore arms—one that extended horizontally to signal “stop,” and another set at a 45-degree angle to signal “caution.” For nighttime usage, Knight added a gas lantern on top of the pole, which indicated green for go and red for stop. The signal system was man-operated, requiring an attendant to monitor traffic and turn a lever at the signal’s base to notify drivers. Concerned that drivers and pedestrians would not heed just anyone, officials decided that police officers would handle the signal’s operation.
Knight’s invention was installed at the corners of Great George and Bridge Streets, just off London’s Parliament Square, and began operations on December 10, 1868. The traffic signal seemed to be an immediate success, but tragedy struck just three weeks later. On January 2, 1869, a leak in the signal’s gas valve caused an explosion, severely injuring its police attendant. In the accident’s aftermath, new fears for public safety caused officials to remove the signal, ending this early attempt at transportation control almost as quickly as it had started.
Modified versions of this early traffic signal would be developed over the coming decades, but it would be 45 years before the first electric traffic light came along. On August 5, 1914, a series of red and green lights were installed on a busy street corner in Cleveland, Ohio. Officials were able to control the flow of traffic in all directions by coordinating among the four signals. These signals were also man-operated, albeit from the safety of nearby control booths.
There are few things New Yorkers enjoy more than a good real estate story. So it’s probably no surprise that a hot topic of discussion around here just happens to be one of the most unusual “living” arrangements the city has seen in recent years. It’s an 810-square-foot apartment—seemingly precariously perched atop six floors of scaffolding—that gives visitors a unique, up-close look at one of the city’s most well-known landmarks: the Christopher Columbus monument that presides over Columbus Circle. This weekend, I stopped by the recently opened art installation “Discovering Columbus” to see what all the fuss was about.
After waiting in line and climbing 60 feet in the air, visitors are rewarded with not only spectacular views of the city and neighboring Central Park, but also with a tour of a fully furnished “penthouse” apartment—that just happens to have a 13-foot-tall statue of Christopher Columbus as its centerpiece. This, of course, is the statue that has always topped the monument, but here it’s presented in a startling new way. The exhibition is the latest work from conceptual artist Tatzu Nishi, who has spent much of his career creating similar temporary living spaces around iconic structures worldwide.
Check out the slideshow below to find out more and see pictures I snapped of the exhibit, which is well worth checking out. It runs until November 18, and free tickets are available at publicartfund.org.
We love New York. And we also love the new HISTORY Here app, an interactive travel guide to thousands of historic locations across the United States. So when our coworkers responsible for HISTORY Here asked some of us to snap photos of sites in and around New York City, we jumped at the chance. (And how could we pass up a day out of the office in late summer?) Assigned to specific neighborhoods in the five boroughs and beyond, we fanned out across New York and Connecticut to capture images for the app. Below, check out a slideshow of some of our favorite photos from the shoot, along with notes from our producers about why they enjoyed taking each picture. Then go and download HISTORY Here for your iPhone—it’s free! And coming soon for Android too.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the deadliest day in American history—September 17, 1862. Fought on a field near Antietam Creek in Sharpsburg, Maryland, the Battle of Antietam resulted in 23,000 American casualties—four times the number killed or wounded on D-Day—and dramatically changed the course of the Civil War. To commemorate the anniversary, we wanted to highlight some of the related features, videos and articles available on History.com.
7 Ways the Battle of Antietam Changed America: Did you know that the outcome of Antietam kept Britain and France from intervening in the Civil War? Get more facts in this History in the Headlines article.
Civil War 150: The ultimate Civil War cheat sheet, it features infographics, photos and fast facts about the 150 things everyone should know about the conflict.
Civil War in One Word: If you had to describe the Civil War in just one word, what would it be? Check out this video to find out what a number of Civil War historians had to say.
Civil War Turning Point: This video, featuring several prominent Civil War historians, focuses on the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam and the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Civil War Today on iPad: This groundbreaking app created exclusively for the iPad explores every phase and aspect of America’s bloodiest conflict with daily updates that unveil the events in real time over the course of four years.
As one of the producers here at History.com, I’m hard at work on a new project for later this fall that has me digging up the most interesting “wow” facts I can find. Rather than bombarding my coworkers with each new incredible find, I thought I might share some of the facts—and the stories behind them—with you. And so…
Did you know that due to World War II player shortages, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles briefly merged to form a single team popularly known as the “Steagles”?
Here’s the story:
The National Football League faced an uncertain future during World War II. Due to government restrictions on travel, the NFL nearly canceled the entire 1943 season before agreeing to slash team rosters and reduce the regular season schedule. The military draft had already claimed more than 600 players—a vast majority of the sport’s elite athletes. So the Cleveland franchise, unable to put forward a competitive team, opted to sit out the season entirely. Which meant that, in order to create an evenly balanced league, another team would have to do the same. Or one team could choose to merge with another. Amazingly, that’s just what happened; even more amazingly, it was two intra-state rivals from Pennsylvania.
Among those hardest hit by the loss of drafted players were the Pittsburgh Steelers, who entered the off-season with just six players under contract. The team had long been one of the league’s worst—although they were coming off a somewhat successful 1942 season. The Philadelphia Eagles were even worse, once drawing fewer than 100 fans to a home game. Though both franchises were losing money, they stood to lose even more if they didn’t play at all. So the respective owners agreed to a one-year-only merger that created the “Phil-Pitt Combine.” It didn’t take long for fans and journalists to devise a far more interesting nickname: the “Steagles.”
Combining teams on paper was the easy part, but combining personalities proved to be far trickier. Each team already had its own coach—Walt Kiesling for Pittsburgh and Earle “Greasy” Neale for Philly. It turned out the two men hated each other. They bickered constantly, once storming off the field in different directions during a flare-up at practice. Eventually, they simply divided the responsibilities in half, with Kiesling coaching the defense and Neale the offense.
The caliber of the players presented another challenge—there was a reason, after all, why they had been declared ineligible for the draft. There was a profoundly deaf lineman, an ulcer-riddled running back and a partially blind receiver. And while these players may have struggled on the field, their lives were no easier off the gridiron. They were all required to support the war effort by putting in 40-hour work weeks in the defense industries, after which they would show up for the three-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week practices in Philadelphia.
Despite these difficulties, the season, which opened on October 2, got off to a surprisingly good start. After going 2-0, however, they began to falter and eventually ended the regular season at 5-4-1. For the teams that made up the Steagles, this was actually an improvement of sorts. Up until that season, the Eagles had never had a winning record , and the Steelers had only managed to do it once before in their 10-year history.
The following year, the Eagles resumed solo operations while the still-depleted Steelers once again joined forces with another team, the Chicago Cardinals. Formally known as Card-Pitt, this new combine fared far worse than the Steagles, finishing the regular season at 0-10. This dismal record earned the team another clever nickname, the Car-Pits—or Carpets for the ease with which other teams “walked” over them. But it’s the Steagles, Pennsylvania’s most unlikely team, that continues to capture the imagination of sports fans 70 years after its brief moment in the spotlight.
Thanks for listening, and stay tuned for more facts!