Year
2006

“World’s Fastest Indian” makes U.S. debut

On February 3, 2006, “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a movie based on the true story of motorcycle racer and land-speed record holder Burt Munro, opens in U.S. theaters. The film starred Anthony Hopkins as Munro, the sexagenarian who in the 1960s set several land-speed records on his modified 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Herbert Munro, who was born in Invercargill, New Zealand, on March 25, 1899, began riding motorcycles as a teenager. He later bought his Indian Scout motorcycle and raced it competitively in Australia and New Zealand. In the late 1940s, Munro, who was considered eccentric by some of his neighbors, stopped working and put all his time and energy into rebuilding his Indian and Velocette motorcycles, modifying the engines and frames and hand-crafting his own new parts. After setting various speed records in New Zealand in the 1940s and 1950s, Munro focused his sights on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Located approximately 100 miles west of Salt Lake City, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a hard, flat 30,000-acre expanse formed from an ancient evaporated lake. In 1914, Teddy Tezlaff set an auto speed record at Bonneville, driving 141.73 mph in a Blitzen Benz. By the late 1940s, Bonneville had become the standard place for setting and breaking world land-speed records and has since attracted drivers from around the globe who compete in a number of automotive and motorcycle divisions.

In 1962, Munro sailed to America on a cargo ship, working as a cook to pay his fare. After making his way to the Salt Flats, he set a world record of 178.97 mph with his engine bored out to 850 cc. Over the next few years, the determined Munro, then in his 60s, returned to Bonneville again, racing there for the final time in 1967, when he drove 183.586 mph and set a new speed record in the sub-1,000 cc motorcycle class. His one-way qualifying run of 190.07 mph was the fastest speed ever clocked on an Indian motorcycle.

Munro died at the age of 78 on January 6, 1978. According to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum: “During his life, Munro’s accomplishments were little known outside a select group of motorcycle enthusiasts. With the release of “The World’s Fastest Indian” in 2005 [it opened in New Zealand in October of that year], Munro suddenly became a cult hero in New Zealand.”

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 Belle ...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