Maverick auto exec John DeLorean dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/maverick-auto-exec-john-delorean-dies

On this day in 2005, John DeLorean, an innovative auto industry executive and founder of the DeLorean Motor Company, dies at the age of 80 in New Jersey. In the early 1980s, the DeLorean Motor Company produced just one model, the DMC-12, a sleek sports car with gull-wing doors that opened upward, before going bankrupt. John DeLorean was charged with drug trafficking in an effort to raise funds for his struggling company. Approximately 9,000 DMC-12s in total were produced. The car later became a collector’s item and received a big publicity boost when it was featured as a time-travel machine in the “Back to the Future” movies starring Michael J. Fox.

DeLorean was born on January 6, 1925, and grew up in Detroit. He worked as an engineer for the Packard Motor Company and later moved to General Motors, where he was credited with developing the Pontiac GTO, the first “muscle car,” which launched in 1964. DeLorean quickly rose through the ranks at GM, becoming the youngest general manager of the Pontiac division and then several years later, the youngest head of Chevrolet. He earned a reputation for corporate innovation and was also known for his flashy, jet-set lifestyle.

In 1973, DeLorean resigned from GM and eventually formed his eponymous company. With investments from the British government, as well as celebrities including Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr., DeLorean opened a factory in Dunmurry, Ireland, that in 1981 began producing his dream sports car: the DMC-12, which carried a then-hefty price tag of $25,000. However, the company soon ran into financial trouble, due in part to slow sales in the United States. On October 19, 1982, the British government announced the plant would be shuttered. That same day, DeLorean was arrested on drug trafficking charges in Los Angeles. Several months earlier, DeLorean had been approached by a former drug smuggler turned federal informant and the two men engaged in a series of discussions about a deal involving cocaine smuggling and money laundering that would potentially earn enough money to save DeLorean’s company. During the highly publicized trial that followed, DeLorean maintained he had been set up by the government. A jury acquitted him in August 1984.

First U.S. air combat mission begins

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Eight Curtiss “Jenny” planes of the First Aero Squadron take off from Columbus, New Mexico, in the first combat air mission in U.S. history. The First Aero Squadron, organized in 1914 after the outbreak of World War I, was on a support mission for the 7,000 U.S. troops who invaded Mexico to capture Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.

On March 9, 1916, Villa, who opposed American support for Mexican President Venustiano Carranza, led a band of several hundred guerrillas across the border on a raid of the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing 17 Americans. On March 15, under orders from President Woodrow Wilson, U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing launched a punitive expedition into Mexico to capture Villa. Four days later, the First Aero Squadron was sent into Mexico to scout and relay messages for General Pershing.

Despite numerous mechanical and navigational problems, the American fliers flew hundreds of missions for Pershing and gained important experience that would later be used by the pilots over the battlefields of Europe. However, during the 11-month mission, U.S. forces failed to capture the elusive revolutionary, and Mexican resentment over U.S. intrusion into their territory led to a diplomatic crisis. In late January 1917, with President Wilson under pressure from the Mexican government and more concerned with the war overseas than with bringing Villa to justice, the Americans were ordered home.

Nevada legalizes gambling

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In an attempt to lift the state out of the hard times of the Great Depression, the Nevada state legislature votes to legalize gambling.

Located in the Great Basin desert, few settlers chose to live in Nevada after the United States acquired the territory at the end of the Mexican War in 1848. In 1859, the discovery of the “Comstock Lode” of gold and silver spurred the first substantial number of settlers into Nevada to exploit the territory’s mining opportunities. Five years later, during the Civil War, Nevada was hastily made the 36th state in order to strengthen the Union.

At the beginning of the Depression, Nevada’s mines were in decline, and its economy was in shambles. In March 1931, Nevada’s state legislature responded to population flight by taking the drastic measure of legalizing gambling and, later in the year, divorce. Established in 1905, Las Vegas, Nevada, has since become the gambling and entertainment capital of the world, famous for its casinos, nightclubs, and sporting events. In the first few decades after the legalization of gambling, organized crime flourished in Las Vegas. Today, state gambling taxes account for the lion’s share of Nevada’s overall tax revenues.

DeMille wins Oscar

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On March 19, 1953, legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille wins the only Academy Award of his career when The Greatest Show on Earth takes home an Oscar for Best Picture. The film, a big-budget extravaganza about circus life, starred Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, and Cornel Wilde.

Born in Ashfield, Massachusetts, in 1881, DeMille came from a theatrical family and studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 1913, hoping to exploit the fledgling movie industry, he joined with Jesse Lasky, Samuel Goldwyn, and Arthur Freed in forming the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, which later grew into Paramount Pictures. He produced and co-directed a silent western called The Squaw Man (1914), which at six reels was the first feature-length film made in the small town of Hollywood, California.

During the next few years, DeMille was responsible for a string of commercially successful movies and became the archetype of the Hollywood director as a dashing and assertive figure. After World War I, he made comedies with sexual themes, such as Male and Female (1919) and The Affairs of Anatol (1921). These and other Hollywood movies of the postwar period led to a series of scandals in which the industry was forced to defend itself against charges of immorality. In response, DeMille made the The Ten Commandments (1923), which combined a modern-day morality tale with an elaborate biblical flashback. Three years later, he released The King of Kings (1927), a biblical epic. 

Having found a winning genre, he made a series of lavish biblical and historical epics in the 1930s, including The Sign of the Cross (1932), the exotic Cleopatra (1934), and The Crusades (1935). Henceforth, DeMille concentrated on big-budget spectacles, and his last three films–Samson and Delilah (1949), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and a second version of The Ten Commandments (1956)–were all progressively bigger than anything he had done before. In all, he made some 70 films.

Although rarely critically acclaimed, his spectacles attracted vast audiences, and he was a dominant figure in Hollywood for decades. His only Oscar was for The Greatest Show on Earth, but that year he also received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 1950, he had received a special Academy Award for “37 years of brilliant showmanship.” In 1952, the Golden Globe Awards introduced the Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. The first Cecil B. DeMille Award went, appropriately, to Cecil B. DeMille. He died in 1959.

U.S. bombs Cambodia for the first time

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U.S. B-52 bombers are diverted from their targets in South Vietnam to attack suspected communist base camps and supply areas in Cambodia for the first time in the war. President Nixon approved the mission–formally designated Operation Breakfast–at a meeting of the National Security Council on March 15. This mission and subsequent B-52 strikes inside Cambodia became known as the “Menu” bombings. A total of 3,630 flights over Cambodia dropped 110,000 tons of bombs during a 14-month period through April 1970. This bombing of Cambodia and all follow up “Menu” operations were kept secret from the American public and the U.S. Congress because Cambodia was ostensibly neutral. To keep the secret, an intricate reporting system was established at the Pentagon to prevent disclosure of the bombing. Although the New York Times broke the story of the secret bombing campaign in May 1969, there was little adverse public reaction.

Wells and Fargo start shipping and banking company

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On this day in 1852, in New York City, Henry Wells and William G. Fargo join with several other investors to launch their namesake business.

The discovery of gold in California in 1849 prompted a huge spike in the demand for cross-country shipping. Wells and Fargo decided to take advantage of these great opportunities. In July 1852, their company shipped its first loads of freight from the East Coast to mining camps scattered around northern California. The company contracted with independent stagecoach companies to provide the fastest possible transportation and delivery of gold dust, important documents and other valuable freight. It also served as a bank–buying gold dust, selling paper bank drafts and providing loans to help fuel California’s growing economy.

In 1857, Wells, Fargo and Co. formed the Overland Mail Company, known as the “Butterfield Line,” which provided regular mail and passenger service along an ever-growing number of routes. In the boom-and-bust economy of the 1850s, the company earned a reputation as a trustworthy and reliable business, and its logo–the classic stagecoach–became famous. For a premium price, Wells, Fargo and Co. would send an employee on horseback to deliver or pick up a message or package.

Wells, Fargo and Co. merged with several other “Pony Express” and stagecoach lines in 1866 to become the unrivaled leader in transportation in the West. When the transcontinental railroad was completed three years later, the company began using railroad to transport its freight. By 1910, its shipping network connected 6,000 locations, from the urban centers of the East and the farming towns of the Midwest to the ranching and mining centers of Texas and California and the lumber mills of the Pacific Northwest.

After splitting from the freight business in 1905, the banking branch of the company merged with the Nevada National Bank and established new headquarters in San Francisco. During World War I, the U.S. government nationalized the company’s shipping routes and combined them with the railroads into the American Railway Express, effectively putting an end to Wells, Fargo and Co. as a transportation and delivery business. The following April, the banking headquarters was destroyed in a major earthquake, but the vaults remained intact and the bank’s business continued to grow. After two later mergers, the Wells Fargo Bank American Trust Company–shortened to the Wells Fargo Bank in 1962–became, and has remained, one of the biggest banking institutions in the United States.

French-Algerian truce

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On March 18, 1962, France and the leaders of the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) sign a peace agreement to end the seven-year Algerian War, signaling the end of 130 years of colonial French rule in Algeria.

In late October 1954, a faction of young Algerian Muslims established the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) as a guerrilla organization dedicated to winning independence from France. They staged several bloody uprisings during the next year, and by 1956 the FLN was threatening to overrun the colonial cities, home to Algeria’s sizable European settler population. In France, a new administration, led by Guy Mollet, promised to quell the Muslim rebellion and sent 500,000 French troops to Algeria to crush the FLN.

To isolate the rebels and their area of operations, France granted Tunisia and Morocco independence, and their borders with Algeria were militarized with barbed wire and electric fencing. When FLN leaders attempted to travel to Tunisia in October 1956 to discuss the Algerian War, French forces diverted their plane and jailed the men. In response, the FLN launched a new campaign of terrorism in the colonial capital of Algiers. General Jacques Massu, head of France’s crack parachute unit, was given extraordinary powers to act in the city, and through torture and assassination the FLN presence in Algiers was destroyed. By the end of 1957, the rebels had been pushed back into rural areas, and it seemed the tide had turned in the Algerian War.

However, in May 1958, a new crisis began when European Algerians launched massive demonstrations calling for the integration of Algeria with France and for the return of Charles de Gaulle to power. In France, the Algerian War had seriously polarized public opinion, and many feared the country was on the brink of army revolt or civil war. On June 1, de Gaulle, who had served as leader of France after World War II, was appointed prime minister by the National Assembly and authorized to write a new national constitution.

Days after returning to power, de Gaulle visited Algiers, and though he was warmly welcomed by the European Algerians he did not share their enthusiasm for Algerian integration. Instead, he granted Muslims the full rights of French citizenship and in 1959 declared publicly that Algerians had the right to determine their own future. During the next two years, the worst violence in Algeria was perpetrated by European Algerians rather than the FLN, but scattered revolts and terrorism did not prevent the opening of peace negotiations between France and the FLN-led provisional government of the Algerian Republic in 1961.

On March 16, 1962, a peace agreement was signed at Evian-les-Bains, France, promising independence for Algeria pending a national referendum on the issue. French aid would continue, and Europeans could return to their native countries, remain as foreigners in Algeria, or take Algerian citizenship. On July 1, 1962, Algerians overwhelmingly approved the agreement, and most of the one million Europeans in Algeria poured out of the country. More than 100,000 Muslim and 10,000 French soldiers were killed in the seven-year Algerian War, along with thousands of Muslim civilians and hundreds of European colonists.

Parliament repeals the Stamp Act

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After four months of widespread protest in America, the British Parliament repeals the Stamp Act, a taxation measure enacted to raise revenues for a standing British army in America.

The Stamp Act was passed on March 22, 1765, leading to an uproar in the colonies over an issue that was to be a major cause of the Revolution: taxation without representation. Enacted in November 1765, the controversial act forced colonists to buy a British stamp for every official document they obtained. The stamp itself displayed an image of a Tudor rose framed by the word “America” and the French phrase Honi soit qui mal y pense–“Shame to him who thinks evil of it.”

The colonists, who had convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the impending enactment, greeted the arrival of the stamps with outrage and violence. Most Americans called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest, and an appeal by Benjamin Franklin before the British House of Commons, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766. However, the same day, Parliament passed the Declaratory Acts, asserting that the British government had free and total legislative power over the colonies.

Tolpuddle Martyrs banished to Australia

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In England, six English agricultural laborers are sentenced to seven years of banishment to Australia’s New South Wales penal colony for their trade union activities.

In 1833, after several years of reductions in their agricultural wages, a group of workers in Tolpuddle, a small village east of Dorchester, England, formed the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. Led by George Loveless, a farm laborer, the union rapidly grew in the area, and it was agreed that the men would not accept work for less than 10 shillings a week. With the urging of the British government, which feared a repetition of the rural unrest of 1830, local authorities arrested Loveless and five others on charges of taking an unlawful oath, citing an outdated law that had been passed in the late 18th century to deal with naval mutiny. In March 1834, these six men, including one who had never taken the oath, were sentenced to seven years imprisonment at an Australian penal colony.

Public reaction throughout the country made the six into popular heroes, and in 1836, after continual agitation, the sentence against the so-called “Tolpuddle Martyrs” was finally remitted. Only one of the six returned to Tolpuddle; the rest emigrated to Canada, where one Tolpuddle Martyr–John Standfield–became mayor of his district. The popular movement surrounding the Tolpuddle controversy is generally regarded as the beginning of trade unionism in Great Britain.