Year
1958
Month Day
February 23

Formula One champ kidnapped

On February 23, 1958, five-time Formula One champion Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina is kidnapped in Cuba by a group of Fidel Castro’s rebels.

Fangio was taken from his Havana hotel the day before the Cuba Grand Prix, an event intended to showcase the island nation. He was released unharmed several hours after the race. The kidnapping was intended to bring international embarrassment to Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, whose government Castro would overthrow on January 1, 1959.

In addition to Fangio’s kidnapping, the Cuba Grand Prix was marred by tragedy when a Cuban driver named Armando Garcia Cifuentes lost control of his car on an oil-slicked part of the street course and plowed into a crowd on onlookers. Seven people were killed and dozens more injured. The crash led to immediate speculation that Castro’s followers had sabotaged the course by coating it with oil; however, it was later believed that a broken oil line in a car driven by Argentina’s Roberto Mieres was the cause of the slick spot.

The kidnapping incident occurred at the end of Juan Manuel Fangio’s storied career. Fangio, who was born on June 24, 1911, in Balcarce, Argentina, quit school at the age of 11 to work as a mechanic’s assistant and as a young man raced “souped-up passenger cars on the unpaved roads of South America,” according to his 1995 obituary in The New York Times. After modern Formula One racing began in 1950, Fangio collected his first world championship in 1951. He repeated this feat in 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957. Fangio left racing in 1958, stating that the cars had become too fast and dangerous. According to the Times: “That he survived to enjoy his wealth despite racing in an era without seat belts and fire-retardant uniforms was a credit to his skills, the cars he drove and no small measure of luck.”

Fangio died in Buenos Aires at the age of 84 on July 17, 1995. His record of five Formula One world titles stood until 2003, when Germany’s Michael Schumacher won his sixth world championship (Schumacher retired in 2006 with a total of seven world titles).

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

It’s a tie for Song of the Year at the 20th annual Grammy Awards

Music fans might expect that the songs up for Best Song consideration at the 1977 Grammy Awards included songs that have stood the test of time, like Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” Elvis Costello’s “Allison,” Tom Petty’s “American Girl” or Bob Marley’s “Jammin'”. In actuality, the ...read more

Children receive first polio vaccine

On February 23, 1954, a group of children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, receive the first injections of the new polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. Though not as devastating as the plague or influenza, poliomyelitis was a highly contagious ...read more

U.S. flag raised on Iwo Jima

During the bloody Battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division take the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest peak and most strategic position, and raise the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis ...read more

Eric Heiden speed skates into Olympic history

On February 23, 1980, speed skater Eric Heiden wins the 10,000-meter race at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, setting a world record with his time and winning an unprecedented fifth gold medal at the games. Heiden had been training as a speed skater since the age of ...read more

Woody Guthrie writes “This Land Is Your Land”

Folk singer Woody Guthrie writes one of his best-known songs, “This Land is Your Land.” Born in Okemah, Oklahoma, in 1912, Guthrie lived and wrote of the American West, a place of hard-working people and harsh environments rather than romantic cowboys and explorers. Though he ...read more

W.E.B. Du Bois is born

On February 23, 1868, William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois is born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A brilliant scholar, Du Bois was an influential proponent of civil rights. Du Bois’ childhood was happy, but during adolescence he became aware of a “vast veil” separating ...read more

Convicted murderer gets spared from death when gallows malfunction

On February 23, 1885, a 19-year-old man named John Lee is sent to the gallows in Exeter, England, for the murder of Ellen Keyse, a rich older woman for whom he had worked. Although he insisted he was innocent, Lee had been convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. However, ...read more

Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington, D.C.

On February 23, 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington, D.C., amid secrecy and tight security. With seven states having already seceded from the Union since Lincoln’s election, the threat of civil war hung in the air. Allen Pinkerton, head of a private ...read more

Friedrich von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge

Friedrich Wilhelm Rudolf Gerhard August, Freiherr von Steuben, a Prussian military officer, arrives at General George Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge on February 23, 1778 and commences training soldiers in close-order drill, instilling new confidence and discipline in the ...read more