Year
1973

OPEC states declare oil embargo

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implements what it calls “oil diplomacy” on this day in 1973: It prohibits any nation that had supported Israel in its “Yom Kippur War” with Egypt, Syria and Jordan from buying any of the oil it sells. The ensuing energy crisis marked the end of the era of cheap gasoline and caused the share value of the New York Stock Exchange to drop by $97 billion. This, in turn, ushered in one of the worst recessions the United States had ever seen.

In the middle of 1973, even before the OPEC embargo, an American oil crisis was on the horizon: Domestic reserves were low (about 52 billion barrels, a 10-year supply); the United States was importing about 27 percent of the crude petroleum it needed every year; and gasoline prices were rising. The 1973 war with Israel made things even worse. OPEC announced that it would punish Israel’s allies by implementing production cuts of 5 percent a month until that nation withdrew from the occupied territories and restored the rights of the Palestinians. It also declared that the true “enemies” of the Arab cause (in practice, this turned out to mean the United States and the Netherlands) would be subject to an indefinite “total embargo.” Traditionally, per-barrel prices had been set by the oil companies themselves, but in December, OPEC announced that from then on, its members would set their own prices on the petroleum they exported. As a result, the price of a barrel of oil went up to $11.65, 130 percent higher than it had been in October and 387 percent higher than it had been the year before.

Domestic oil prices increased too, but shortages persisted. People waited for hours in long lines at gas stations—at some New Jersey pumps, lines were four miles long!–and by the time the embargo ended in March 1974, the average retail price of gas had climbed to 84 cents per gallon from 38 cents per gallon. Sales of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars skyrocketed. At the same time, declining demand for the big, heavy gas-guzzlers that most American car companies were producing spelled disaster for the domestic auto industry.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Earthquake rocks San Francisco

The deadliest earthquake to hit the San Francisco area since 1906 strikes at 5:04 p.m. and lasts for 15 seconds. The quake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, and its aftermath was witnessed on live television by millions of people watching the third game of the World Series of ...read more

Patriot victory at Saratoga

During the American Revolution, British General John Burgoyne surrenders 5,000 British and Hessian troops to Patriot General Horatio Gates at Saratoga, New York. In the summer of 1777, General Burgoyne led an army of 8,000 men south through New York State in an effort to join ...read more

OPEC enacts oil embargo

The Arab-dominated Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announces a decision to cut oil exports to the United States and other nations that provided military aid to Israel in the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. According to OPEC, exports were to be reduced by 5 ...read more

Algerians massacred in Paris

Paris police massacre more than 200 Algerians marching in the city in support of peace talks to end their country’s war of independence against France. Tensions were running high in Paris at the time, with Algerian terrorists setting off bombs in the French capital and randomly ...read more

Capone goes to prison

On this day in 1931, gangster Al Capone is sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and fined $80,000, signaling the downfall of one of the most notorious criminals of the 1920s and 1930s. Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899 to Italian ...read more

President Johnson goes to Asia

President Johnson leaves Washington for a 17-day trip to seven Asian and Pacific nations and a conference scheduled in Manila. En route to Manila, Johnson visited New Zealand and Australia; in Melbourne, antiwar demonstrators heckled him. In Manila, he met with other Allied ...read more

Olympic protestors stripped of their medals

On October 17, 1968, Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos are forced to return their awards because they raised their fists in a black-power salute during the medal ceremony. In a press conference the next day, International Olympic Committee ...read more

Nathanael West is born

Novelist Nathanael West, was born in New York to a family of Jewish immigrants on this day in 1903. He attended Brown University, then went to Paris to write for a year and a half, where he wrote his first novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931), about disgruntled characters ...read more

Benji debuts

On this day in 1974, Benji, a film about a stray dog who helps rescue several kidnapped children, opens in theaters; it will go on to become a family classic. Written and directed by Joe Camp, Benji starred a mutt named Higgins, who had been rescued as a puppy from a California ...read more

A shoemaker leads German soldiers in a robbery

Wilhelm Voigt, a 57-year-old German shoemaker, impersonates an army officer and leads an entire squad of soldiers to help him steal 4,000 marks. Voigt, who had a long criminal record, humiliated the German army by exploiting their blind obedience to authority and getting them to ...read more

U.S. aid to Contras signed into law

In a short-lived victory for the Nicaraguan policy of the Reagan administration, the President signs into law an act of Congress approving $100 million of military and “humanitarian” aid for the Contras. Unfortunately for Ronald Reagan and his advisors, the Iran-Contra scandal ...read more

Longstreet returns to command

On this day in 1864, Confederate General James Longstreet assumes command of his corps in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in May of that year, Longstreet missed the campaign for Richmond, Virginia,and spent five ...read more