Year
1985
Month Day
August 25

Samantha Smith dies in plane crash

Samantha Smith, the 13-year-old “ambassador” to the Soviet Union, dies in a plane crash. Smith was best known for writing to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov in 1982 and visiting the Soviet Union as Andropov’s guest in 1983.

In late 1982, Smith, a fifth-grader at Manchester Elementary School in Manchester, Maine, wrote a plaintive letter to Soviet leader Andropov. She said that she was “worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to have a war or not?” A few months later, Smith’s letter was reprinted in Russia and it was announced that Andropov was writing a response. Smith received his letter in April 1983. Andropov assured Smith that he did not want a nuclear war with the United States or any other country. Calling Smith a “courageous and honest” little girl, Andropov closed the letter with an invitation for her to visit the Soviet Union. In July, accompanied by her parents, Smith embarked on a two-week trip. She was a hit in the Soviet Union, and although she did not get to meet with Andropov, she traveled widely and spoke to numerous groups and people. 

In the United States, some people branded her as a patsy for the communists and claimed that Soviet propagandists were merely using her for their own purposes, but Samantha’s enthusiasm and contagious optimism charmed most Americans and millions of other people around the world. During the next two years, Smith became an unofficial U.S. goodwill ambassador, speaking to groups throughout the United States and in foreign nations such as Japan. On August 25, 1985, while traveling with her father, their small plane crashed and both were killed.

Smith’s legacy lived on, however. Her mother began the Samantha Smith Foundation, which has as its goal bringing people from different nations and cultures together to share their experiences. In particular, the foundation established a student exchange program with the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union, news of Smith’s death was met with great sadness. The Russian government responded by issuing a stamp in her honor and naming a mountain after the young girl.

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

Ted Kennedy, “liberal lion of the Senate,” dies at 77

On August 25, 2009, Edward “Ted” Kennedy, the youngest brother of President John F. Kennedy and a U.S. senator from Massachusetts from 1962 to 2009, dies of brain cancer at age 77 at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Kennedy, one of the longest-serving senators in American ...read more

On This Day In History: The Liberation of Paris

Paris is liberated after four years of Nazi occupation

After more than four years of Nazi occupation, Paris is liberated by the French 2nd Armored Division and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. German resistance was light, and General Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of the German garrison, defied an order by Adolf Hitler to blow up ...read more

Little Eva earns a #1 hit with “Loco-Motion”

Just as pop stardom most often depends on possessing abundant talent and a great capacity for hard work, it also can require being in the right place at the right time. This was certainly true for the diminutive, 17-year-old singer named Eva Narcissus Boyd, who scored her first ...read more

Englishman swims the Channel

Matthew Webb, a 27-year-old merchant navy captain, becomes the first known person to successfully swim the English Channel. Captain Webb accomplished the grueling 21-mile crossing, which really entailed 39 miles of swimming because of tidal currents, in 21 hours and 45 minutes. ...read more

Council of Nicaea concludes

The Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical debate held by the early Christian church, concludes with the establishment of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Convened by Roman Emperor Constantine I in May, the council also deemed the Arian belief of Christ as inferior to God as ...read more

"The Great Moon Hoax" is published in the "New York Sun"

On August 25, 1835, the first in a series of six articles announcing the supposed discovery of life on the moon appears in the New York Sun newspaper. Known collectively as “The Great Moon Hoax,” the articles were supposedly reprinted from the Edinburgh Journal of Science. The ...read more

Germans burn Belgian town of Louvain

Over the course of five days, beginning August 25, 1914, German troops stationed in the Belgian village of Louvain during the opening month of World War I burn and loot much of the town, executing hundreds of civilians. Located between Liege, the fortress town that saw heavy ...read more

Truman orders army to seize control of railroads

On August 25, 1950, in anticipation of a crippling strike by railroad workers, President Harry S. Truman issues an executive order putting America’s railroads under the control of the U.S. Army, as of August 27, at 4:00 pm. Truman had already intervened in another railway dispute ...read more

Outlaw Bill Doolin is killed

The outlaw Bill Doolin is killed by a posse at Lawton, Oklahoma. Born in Arkansas in 1858, William Doolin was never as hardened a criminal as some of his companions. He went west in 1881, finding work in Oklahoma at the big ranch of Oscar D. Halsell. Halsell took a liking to the ...read more

"The Wizard of Oz" opens in U.S. theaters

On August 25, 1939, The Wizard of Oz, which will become one of the best-loved movies in history, opens in theaters around the United States. Based on the 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919), the film starred Judy Garland as the young ...read more

Hurricane David is born

On August 25, 1979, the storm that will become Hurricane David forms near Cape Verde off the African coast in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. It would go on to devastate the island of Dominica, and then the Dominican Republic, killing 1,500 people. On August 27, two days after ...read more

Truman Capote, author of “In Cold Blood,” dies

Truman Capote, the author of the pioneering true-crime novel In Cold Blood, dies at age 59 in Los Angeles. In Cold Blood told the story of the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, two parolees from the Kansas State Penitentiary, ...read more

An American missionary to China becomes the first casualty of the Cold War

On August 25, 1945, John Birch, an American missionary to China before the war and a captain in the Army during the war, is killed by Chinese communists days after the surrender of Japan, for no apparent reason. After America had entered the war, Birch, a Baptist missionary ...read more