A Year In History: 1974

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1974 was a year of firsts. Richard Nixon, enmeshed in the Watergate scandal, became the first American president to resign from office. Hank Aaron became the first baseball player to top Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Scientists in Ethiopia found the first skeleton of a 3-million-year-old human ancestor that walked upright, while archaeologists in China unearthed an army of more than 8,000 lifesize terracotta warriors. In America, disco fever raged, and Archie Bunker broke TV sitcom ground with his blunt and bigoted take on hot-button social issues.

January 2

President Nixon signs national speed limit into law

On January 2, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon signs the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, setting a new national maximum speed limit. Prior to 1974, individual states set speed limits within their boundaries and highway speed limits across the country ranged from 40 mph to 80 mph. The U.S. and other industrialized nations enjoyed easy […]

February 2

“The Way We Were” becomes Barbra Streisand’s first No. 1 hit

On February 2, 1974, a sweet, soft ballad by a 31-year-old Barbra Streisand knocks Beatle Ringo Starr down a notch on the Billboard Hot 100. Streisand’s “The Way We Were” overtakes the jaunty “You’re Sixteen” as the No. 1 song—Streisand’s first. It would spend 24 weeks total on the Hot 100 chart, three in the […]

February 4

Patty Hearst kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army

On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, the 19-year-old granddaughter of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, is kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, by three armed strangers. Her fiancee, Steven Weed, was beaten and tied up along with a neighbor who tried to help. Witnesses reported seeing a struggling Hearst being carried away blindfolded, and […]

February 7

Guests watch Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” movie premiere from horseback

In one of Hollywood’s zaniest movie premiere stunts, Mel Brooks’ 1974 western spoof Blazing Saddles screens at the Pickwick Drive-In Theater in Burbank, California. Guests attend not in cars—but on horseback. Attendees, many sporting cowboy hats, watched the movie from atop their steeds. Movie sound came through speakers attached to saddle pommels, and the studio […]

February 26

Nike receives patent for waffle-soled trainers—invented in a waffle iron

On February 26, 1974, Nike receives a U.S. patent for its waffle trainer running shoes. Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman invented the now-iconic soles in a waffle iron over breakfast. Before Air Jordans and “Just do it,” Nike was a small sneaker company founded at the University of Oregon. Bill Bowerman, the coach of the Oregon […]

March 6

Helen Thomas named UPI’s White House bureau chief, the first woman to hold that title for a wire agency

Journalist Helen Thomas is named United Press International’s White House Bureau Chief on March 6, 1974. At a press conference that day, President Nixon personally congratulates her on becoming the first woman to serve in the distinguished role. The moment marks the beginning of a boundary-breaking career, in which Thomas becomes a fixture in the […]

March 29

Exiled writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reunited with family

On March 29, 1974, prominent Soviet author, historian and political dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is reunited with his family after being exiled from his home country. Publication of The Gulag Archipelago, his detailed history of the Soviet Union’s vast system of prisons and labor camps, helped raise global awareness of the communist nation’s rampant political repression. Its […]

March 30

John Denver has his first #1 hit with “Sunshine On My Shoulders”

John Denver scores his first #1 song, “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” on March 30, 1974. He would go on to become one of the most popular singer-songwriters of the 1970s. “Sunshine On My Shoulders” was John Denver’s attempt to write a sad song, a big part of Denver’s broad appeal. “I was so down I […]

April 5

Stephen King’s first novel, “Carrie,” is published

On April 5, 1974, Stephen King, a Maine high school teacher who had been writing on evenings and weekends, sees his first full-length novel, Carrie, published. The release by Doubleday & Co. becomes a bestseller and inspires a movie of the same name. For King, Carrie kicks off a phenomenal writing career, one in which […]

May 2

Former Vice President Spiro Agnew disbarred for tax evasion

On May 2, 1974, the Maryland Court of Appeals orders the disbarment of former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew, seven months after his no-contest plea to a tax-evasion charge in the United States District Court in Baltimore. In a strongly worded, 13-page opinion, Maryland’s highest court writes that disbarment is an automatic consequence for a […]