Year
1875
Month Day
August 27

Tycoon William Ralston drowns

Hours after being asked to resign as president of the Bank of California, the powerful western capitalist William Ralston is found drowned in San Francisco Bay.

One of the first men to build a major financial empire in the Far West, Ralston was born in Ohio in 1826. In 1854, he immigrated to the booming town of San Francisco, a once sleepy Spanish missionary village that had become the center of the California Gold Rush five years earlier. There he became a partner in a steamship company, and 10 years later he used his profits to organize the Bank of California.

Ralston’s bank quickly became one of the most important financial institutions in the West. Starved for capital, western businessmen were happy to deal with a reliable bank in their own region instead of the New York and Boston banks. Ralston committed his own funds as well as those of the bank to a wide array of western businesses. Many were unexciting but essential enterprises like water companies. Ralston also had an adventurous side, though, and used his money to support lavish hotels and theaters in San Francisco as well as the hugely profitable Comstock Lode silver mine in Nevada.

The always-treacherous world of mining, however, eventually proved to be Ralston’s undoing. Having made millions in the Comstock Lode, Ralston gambled on several silver mines that proved busts. News of the failed mining investments sparked a run on the bank, forcing the bank to close its doors on August 26, 1875.

The next day, a somber board of directors asked for and received Ralston’s resignation as bank president. A few hours later, after Ralston had gone for his usual morning swim in San Francisco Bay, his body was discovered. Whether Ralston had accidentally drowned or deliberately killed himself remains a mystery.

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

Transgender athlete Renée Richards barred from U.S. Open

On August 27, 1976, the United States Tennis Association bars transgender athlete Renée Richards from competing in the U.S. Open as a woman, stating she must pass a chromosomal test. Richards fails the test, sues the USTA and wins the right a year later to compete via a New York ...read more

“The Guinness Book of Records” debuts

On August 27, 1955, the first edition of “The Guinness Book of Records” is published in Great Britain; it quickly proves to be a hit. Now known as the “Guinness World Records” book, the annual publication features a wide range of feats related to humans and animals.  The ...read more

NFL star Michael Vick pleads guilty in dogfighting case

On August 27, 2007, Michael Vick, a star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, formally pleads guilty before a Richmond, Virginia, judge to a federal felony charge related to running a dogfighting ring. That December, the 27-year-old Vick, once the highest-paid player in the NFL, ...read more

Lord Mountbatten killed by IRA

On August 27, 1979, Lord Louis Mountbatten is killed when Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorists detonate a 50-pound bomb hidden on his fishing vessel Shadow V. Mountbatten, a war hero, elder statesman, and second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, was spending the day with his family ...read more

British forces defeat Patriots in the Battle of Brooklyn

During the American Revolution, British forces under General William Howe defeat Patriot forces under General George Washington at the Battle of Brooklyn (also known as the Battle of Long Island) in New York. On August 22, Howe’s large army landed on Long Island, hoping to ...read more

Krakatoa explodes

One of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in recorded history occurs on Krakatoa (also called Krakatau), a small, uninhabited volcanic island east of Sumatra and west of Java, on August 27, 1883. Heard 3,000 miles away, the explosions threw five cubic miles of earth 50 miles ...read more

Romania enters World War I

On August 27, 1916, after Romania declares war on Austria-Hungary, formally entering World War I, Romanian troops cross the border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into the much-contested province of Transylvania. By the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, Romania had long been at ...read more

Lyndon B. Johnson is born

On August 27, 1908, future President Lyndon Baines Johnson is born on a farm near Stonewall, Texas. The brash, outspoken Johnson grew up in an impoverished rural area and worked his way through a teachers’ training college before entering politics. In 1937, Johnson won a seat in ...read more

Beatles manager Brian Epstein dies

On August 27, 1967, Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, was found dead of an accidental drug overdose. The following day, the headline in the London Daily Mirror read “EPSTEIN (The Beatle-Making Prince of Pop) DIES AT 32.” Brian Epstein was, by all accounts, the man who truly ...read more

"Red Scare" dominates American politics

As the presidential election of 1952 begins to heat up, so do accusations and counteraccusations concerning communism in America. The “Red Scare”—the widespread belief that international communism was operating in the United States—came to dominate much of the debate between ...read more