Year
1917

U.S. breaks diplomatic relations with Germany

On this day in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson speaks for two hours before a historic session of Congress to announce that the United States is breaking diplomatic relations with Germany.

Due to the reintroduction of the German navy’s policy of unlimited submarine warfare, announced two days earlier by Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollwegg, Wilson announced that his government had no choice but to cut all diplomatic ties with Germany in order to uphold the honor and dignity of the United States. Though he maintained that We do not desire any hostile conflict with the German government, Wilson nevertheless cautioned that war would follow if Germany followed through on its threat to sink American ships without warning.

Later that day, Count von Bernstorff, the German ambassador to the U.S., received a note written by Secretary of State Robert Lansing stating that The President hasdirected me to announce to your Excellency that all diplomatic relations between the United States and the German empire are severed, and that the American Ambassador at Berlin will be immediately withdrawn, and in accordance with such announcement to deliver to your Excellency your passports. Bernstorff was guaranteed safe passage out of the country, but was ordered to leave Washington immediately. Also in the wake of Wilson’s speech, all German cruisers docked in the United States were seized and the government formally demanded that all American prisoners being held in Germany be released at once.

On the same day, a German U-boat sunk the American cargo ship Housatonic off the Scilly Islands, just southwest of Britain. A British ship rescued the ship’s crew, but its entire cargo of grain was lost.

In Berlin that night, before learning of the president’s speech, German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann told U.S. Ambassador James J. Gerard that Everything will be alright. America will do nothing, for President Wilson is for peace and nothing else. Everything will go on as before. He was proved wrong the following morning, as news arrived of the break in relations between America and Germany, a decisive step towards U.S. entry into the First World War.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Clinton ends Vietnam trade embargo

Nearly two decades after the fall of Saigon, U.S. President Bill Clinton announces the lifting of the 19-year-old trade embargo against Vietnam, citing the cooperation of Vietnam’s communist government in helping the United States locate the 2,238 Americans still listed as ...read more

Lunik 9 soft-lands on lunar surface

On February 3, 1966, the Soviet Union accomplishes the first controlled landing on the moon, when the unmanned spacecraft Lunik 9 touches down on the Ocean of Storms. After its soft landing, the circular capsule opened like a flower, deploying its antennas, and began transmitting ...read more

The day the music died

On this day in 1959, rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. ...read more

Woodrow Wilson dies

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, dies in Washington, D.C., at the age of 67. In 1912, Governor Wilson of New Jersey was elected president in a landslide Democratic victory over Republican incumbent William Howard Taft and Progressive Party candidate ...read more

Cousteau publishes The Silent World

On February 3, 1953, French oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau publishes his most famous and lasting work, The Silent World. Born in Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac, France, in 1910, Cousteau was trained at the Brest Naval School. While serving in the French navy, he began his underwater ...read more

U.S. troops capture the Marshall Islands

On this day, American forces invade and take control of the Marshall Islands, long occupied by the Japanese and used by them as a base for military operations. The Marshalls, east of the Caroline Islands in the western Pacific Ocean, had been in Japanese hands since World War I. ...read more

Diem institutes limited agrarian reforms

After months of prodding by U.S. advisors, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem introduces the first in a series of agrarian reform measures. This first measure was a decree governing levels of rent for farmland. U.S. officials had strongly urged that Diem institute such ...read more

New England Patriots win first Super Bowl

On this day in 2002, the New England Patriots shock football fans everywhere by defeating the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, 20-17, to take home their first Super Bowl victory. Pats’ kicker Adam Vinatieri made a 48-yard field goal to win the game just as the clock expired. Super ...read more

Clinton ends trade embargo of Vietnam

On this day in 1994, President Bill Clinton lifts a 19-year-old trade embargo of the Republic of Vietnam. The embargo had been in place since 1975, when North Vietnamese forces captured the city of Saigon in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. President Clinton lifted the ...read more

Belle Starr murdered in Oklahoma

The outlaw Belle Starr is killed when an unknown assailant fatally wounds the famous “Bandit Queen” with two shotgun blasts from behind. As with the lives of other famous outlaws like Billy the Kid and Jesse James, fanciful accounts printed in newspapers and dime novels made ...read more

The Music dies in an Iowa cornfield

“It was already snowing at Minneapolis, and the general forecast for the area along the intended route indicated deteriorating weather conditions,” wrote the Civil Aeronautics Board investigators six months after the crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “the Big ...read more

Keats falls deathly ill

On this day, poet John Keats, age 24, coughs up blood and realizes he, like his brother Tom, is doomed to die of tuberculosis. Despite the tender care of his fiancÝe, Fanny Brawne, and a journey to Italy in the hopes of improving his condition, he dies in February 1821, only 25 ...read more

John Cassavetes dies

The film director, writer and actor John Cassavetes, hailed as a fiercely independent filmmaker and a pioneer of American cinema verite,dies on this day in 1989 at the age of 59, in Los Angeles. Born in New York City, Cassavetes studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic ...read more

Marine jet severs ski-lift cable in Italy

On this day in 1998, a U.S. Marine jet flying low over the town of Cavalese in the Italian Alps severs a ski-lift cable, sending a tram crashing to the ground and killing 20 people. Cavalese is located in the Dolomite Mountains, about 20 miles northeast of Trento, Italy. In 1976, ...read more