Year
1928

Andy Warhol is born

Andy Warhol, one of the most influential artists of the latter part of the 20th century, is born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A frail and diminutive man with a shock of silver-blond hair, Warhol was a major pioneer of the pop art movement of the 1960s but later outgrew that role to become a cultural icon.

Warhol was the son of immigrants from Czechoslovakia, and his father was a coal miner. For years, there was confusion as to his exact date and place of birth because Warhol gave conflicting accounts of these details, probably out of embarrassment of his provincial origins. “I’d prefer to remain a mystery,” he once said. “I never give my background and, anyway, I make it all up different every time I’m asked.” He enrolled in the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and graduated with a degree in pictorial design in 1949. That year, he moved to New York City, where he found work as a commercial illustrator. After being incorrectly credited as “Warhol” under an early published drawing, he decided to permanently remove the “a” from his last name.

He began painting in the late 1950s and took literally the advice of an art teacher who said he should paint the things he liked. He liked ordinary things, such as comic strips, canned soup, and soft drinks, and so he painted them. In 1962, he received notoriety in the art world when his paintings of Campbell’s soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, and wooden replicas of Brillo soap-pad boxes were exhibited in Los Angeles and New York.

In 1963, he dispensed with the paintbrush and began mass-producing images of consumer goods and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy. These prints, accomplished through his use of a silk-screen technique, displayed multiple versions of the same image in garish colors and became his trademark. He was hailed as the leader of the pop art movement, in which Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and others depicted “popular” images such as a soup can or comic strip as a means of fusing high and low culture and commenting on both.

Although shy and soft-spoken, Warhol attracted dozens of followers who were anything but. This mob of underground artists, social curiosities, and hangers-on operated out of the “Factory,” Warhol’s silver-painted studio in Manhattan. In the mid-1960s, Warhol began making experimental films, employing his friends as actors and billing them as “superstars.” Some of his films were monumental essays on boredom, such as the eight-hour continuous shot of the Empire State Building in Empire (1964), and others were gritty representations of underground life, like The Chelsea Girls (1966). He also organized multimedia events such as “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable” and sponsored the influential rock group the Velvet Underground. In 1968, Warhol was shot and nearly killed by Valerie Solanis, a follower who claimed he was “exercising too much influence” over her life.

After more than a year of recuperation from his wounds, Warhol returned to his career and founded Interview magazine, a publication centered on his fascination with the cult of celebrity. He became a fixture on the fashion and jet-set social scenes and was famous for pithy cultural observations like, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” Meanwhile, he continued to produce commercially successful silk-screen prints of entertainment and political figures.

In the 1980s, after a period of relative quiet in his career, he returned to the contemporary art scene as a mentor and friend to a new generation of artists, including Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. With the rise of postmodern art, he came to be regarded as an archetypal role model by many young artists. On February 22, 1987, he died in the hospital of a heart attack shortly after a gall bladder operation. In 1994, the Andy Warhol Museum, the largest single-artist museum in the United States, opened in Pittsburgh.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones debuts

On this day in 1996, “A Game of Thrones,” an epic fantasy novel by George R.R. Martin, is released. The book was the first in Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, about feuding medieval noble families on an imaginary continent called Westeros. Although not initially a ...read more

First draft of Constitution debated

In Philadelphia, delegates to the Constitutional Convention begin debating the first complete draft of the proposed Constitution of the United States.The Articles of Confederation, ratified several months before the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, provided for a loose ...read more

First execution by electric chair

At Auburn Prison in New York, the first execution by electrocution in history is carried out against William Kemmler, who had been convicted of murdering his lover, Matilda Ziegler, with an axe.Electrocution as a humane means of execution was first suggested in 1881 by Dr. Albert ...read more

Green Berets are charged with murder

The U.S. Army announces that Colonel Robert B. Rheault, Commander of the Fifth Special Forces Group in Vietnam, and seven other Green Berets have been charged with premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the summary execution of a Vietnamese national, Thai Khac ...read more

Johnson signs Voting Rights Act

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote. The bill made it illegal to impose restrictions on federal, state and local elections that were designed to deny the vote to blacks.Johnson assumed ...read more

Belle Starr’s first husband slain

Law officers kill Jim Reed, the first husband of the famous bandit queen Belle Starr.Reed’s main claim to fame came from his marriage to Myra Maybelle Shirley, better known today as Belle Starr. Belle’s family had once been prosperous, but the Civil War destroyed her father’s ...read more

Isaac Hayes is born

It’s a long way indeed from the performing onstage at the Academy Awards to portraying a cartoon chef, but that’s the singular journey traveled by the late Isaac Hayes in a remarkable career that included hugely successful work as a singer, songwriter, record producer and actor ...read more

Lucille Ball born

On this day in 1911, Lucille Desiree Ball, one of America’s most famous redheads and beloved comic actresses, is born near Jamestown, New York.At age 15, Ball went to New York City to attend drama school and become an actress. However, she received little encouragement and was ...read more

“Breakfast Club” director John Hughes dies

On this day in 2009, John Hughes, one of the most influential American filmmakers of the 1980s, dies of a heart attack at the age of 59 in New York City. Hughes was best known for the coming-of-age hit movies “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris ...read more

Planes crashes in Guam jungle

A Korean Air Boeing 747 crashes in Guam, killing 228 people on this day in 1997. An inexperienced crew and poor air-traffic policies on the island territory contributed to the disaster.Flight 801, carrying 254 passengers and crew members from Seoul, South Korea, came in toward ...read more

Dutch Schultz is born

Arthur Flegenheimer, who will go on to become one of New York’s most feared criminals under the name “Dutch Schultz,” is born in the Bronx. Thirty-three years later, his life came to a violent and bloody conclusion when he was shot down in the men’s room of the Palace Chophouse ...read more

Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima

The United States becomes the first and only nation to use atomic weaponry during wartime when it drops an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Though the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan marked the end of World War II, many historians argue that it also ignited the ...read more

Confederate ship blown up by crew

The C.S.S. Arkansas, the most feared Confederate ironclad on the Mississippi River, is blown up by her crew after suffering mechanical problems during a battle with the U.S.S. Essex near Baton Rouge, Louisiana.The Arkansas‘s career lasted just 23 days. In August 1861, the ...read more