Monthly Archives: July 2016

July 31, 1975: Jimmy Hoffa disappears

Previously posted at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jimmy-hoffa-disappears

On July 31, 1975, James Riddle Hoffa, one of the most influential American labor leaders of the 20th century, disappears in Detroit, Michigan, never to be heard from again. Though he is popularly believed to have been the victim of a Mafia hit, conclusive evidence was never found, and Hoffa’s death remains shrouded in mystery to this day.

Born in 1913 to a poor coal miner in Brazil, Indiana, Jimmy Hoffa proved a natural leader in his youth. At the age of 20, he helped organize a labor strike in Detroit, and remained an advocate for downtrodden workers for the rest of his life. Hoffa’s charisma and talents as a local organizer quickly got him noticed by the Teamsters and carried him upward through its ranks. Then a small but rapidly growing union, the Teamsters organized truckers across the country, and through the use of strikes, boycotts and some more powerful though less legal methods of protest, won contract demands on behalf of workers.

Hoffa became president of the Teamsters in 1957, when its former leader was imprisoned for bribery. As chief, Hoffa was lauded for his tireless work to expand the union, and for his unflagging devotion to even the organization’s least powerful members. His caring and approachability were captured in one of the more well-known quotes attributed to him: “You got a problem? Call me. Just pick up the phone.”

Hoffa’s dedication to the worker and his electrifying public speeches made him wildly popular, both among his fellow workers and the politicians and businessmen with whom he negotiated. Yet, for all the battles he fought and won on behalf of American drivers, he also had a dark side. In Hoffa’s time, many Teamster leaders partnered with the Mafia in racketeering, extortion and embezzlement. Hoffa himself had relationships with high-ranking mobsters, and was the target of several government investigations throughout the 1960s. In 1967, he was convicted of bribery and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

While in jail, Hoffa never ceded his office, and when Richard Nixon commuted his sentence in 1971, he was poised to make a comeback. Released on condition of not participating in union activities for 10 years, Hoffa was planning to fight the restriction in court when he disappeared on July 31, 1975, from the parking lot of a restaurant in Detroit, not far from where he got his start as a labor organizer. Several conspiracy theories have been floated about Hoffa’s disappearance and the location of his remains, but the truth remains unknown.

July 30, 1965: Johnson signs Medicare into law

Previously posted at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/johnson-signs-medicare-into-law

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare, a health insurance program for elderly Americans, into law. At the bill-signing ceremony, which took place at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, former President Harry S. Truman was enrolled as Medicare’s first beneficiary and received the first Medicare card. Johnson wanted to recognize Truman, who, in 1945,had becomethe first president to propose national health insurance, an initiative that was opposed at the time by Congress.

The Medicare program, providing hospital and medical insurance for Americans age 65 or older, was signed into law as an amendment to the Social Security Act of 1935. Some 19 million people enrolled in Medicare when it went into effect in 1966. In 1972, eligibility for the program was extended to Americans under 65 with certain disabilities and people of all ages with permanent kidney disease requiring dialysis or transplant. In December 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), which added outpatient prescription drug benefits to Medicare.

Medicare is funded entirely by the federal government and paid for in part through payroll taxes. Medicare is currently a source of controversy due to the enormous strain it puts on the federal budget. Throughout its history, the program also has been plagued by fraud–committed by patients, doctors and hospitals–that has cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Medicaid, a state and federally funded program that offers health coverage to certain low-income people, was also signed into law by President Johnson on July 30, 1965, as an amendment to the Social Security Act.

In 1977, the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) was created to administer Medicare and work with state governments to administer Medicaid. HCFA, which was later renamed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and is headquartered in Baltimore.

July 29, 1958: NASA created

Previously posted at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nasa-created

On this day in 1958, the U.S. Congress passes legislation establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a civilian agency responsible for coordinating America’s activities in space. NASA has since sponsored space expeditions, both human and mechanical, that have yielded vital information about the solar system and universe. It has also launched numerous earth-orbiting satellites that have been instrumental in everything from weather forecasting to navigation to global communications.

NASA was created in response to the Soviet Union’s October 4, 1957 launch of its first satellite, Sputnik I. The 183-pound, basketball-sized satellite orbited the earth in 98 minutes. The Sputnik launch caught Americans by surprise and sparked fears that the Soviets might also be capable of sending missiles with nuclear weapons from Europe to America. The United States prided itself on being at the forefront of technology, and, embarrassed, immediately began developing a response, signaling the start of the U.S.-Soviet space race.

On November 3, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik II,which carrieda dog named Laika. In December, America attempted to launch a satellite of its own, called Vanguard, but it exploded shortly after takeoff. On January 31, 1958, things went better with Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite to successfully orbit the earth. In July of that year, Congress passed legislation officially establishing NASA from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and other government agencies, and confirming the country’s commitment to winning the space race. In May 1961, President John F. Kennedydeclared thatAmerica should put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. On July 20, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission achieved that goal and made history when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon, saying “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

NASA has continued to make great advances in space exploration since the first moonwalk, including playing a major part in the construction of the International Space Station. The agency has also suffered tragic setbacks, however, such as the disasters that killed the crews of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986 and the Columbia space shuttle in 2003. In 2004, President George Bush challenged NASA to return to the moon by 2020 and establish “an extended human presence” there that could serve as a launching point for “human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond.”

July 28, 1868: 14th Amendment adopted

Previously posted at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/14th-amendment-adopted

Following its ratification by the necessary three-quarters of U.S. states, the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing to African Americans citizenship and all its privileges, is officially adopted into the U.S. Constitution.

Two years after the Civil War, the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 divided the South into five military districts, where new state governments, based on universal manhood suffrage, were to be established. Thus began the period known as Radical Reconstruction, which saw the 14th Amendment, which had been passed by Congress in 1866, ratified in July 1868. The amendment resolved pre-Civil War questions of African American citizenship by stating that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States and of the state in which they reside.” The amendment then reaffirmed the privileges and rights of all citizens, and granted all these citizens the “equal protection of the laws.”

In the decades after its adoption, the equal protection clause was cited by a number of African American activists who argued that racial segregation denied them the equal protection of law. However, in 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that states could constitutionally provide segregated facilities for African Americans, so long as they were equal to those afforded white persons. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which announced federal toleration of the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine, was eventually used to justify segregating all public facilities, including railroad cars, restaurants, hospitals, and schools. However, “colored” facilities were never equal to their white counterparts, and African Americans suffered through decades of debilitating discrimination in the South and elsewhere. In 1954, Plessy v. Ferguson was finally struck down by the Supreme Court in its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

July 27, 1974: House begins impeachment of Nixon

Previously posted at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/house-begins-impeachment-of-nixon

On this day in 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommends that America’s 37th president, Richard M. Nixon, be impeached and removed from office. The impeachment proceedings resulted from a series of political scandals involving the Nixon administration that came to be collectively known as Watergate.

The Watergate scandal first came to light following a break-in on June 17, 1972, at the Democratic Party’s national headquarters in the Watergate apartment-hotel complex in Washington, D.C. A group of men linked to the White House were later arrested and charged with the crime. Nixon denied any involvement with the break-in, but several of his staff members were eventually implicated in an illegal cover-up and forced to resign. Subsequent government investigations revealed “dirty tricks” political campaigning by the Committee to Re-Elect the President, along with a White House “enemies list.” In July 1973, one of Nixon’s former staff members revealed the existence of secretly taped conversations between the president and his aides. Nixon initially refused to release the tapes, on grounds of executive privilege and national security, but a judge later ordered the president to turn them over. The White House provided some but not all of the tapes, including one from which a portion of the conversation appeared to have been erased.

In May 1974, the House Judiciary Committee began formal impeachment hearings against Nixon. On July 27 of that year, the first article of impeachment against the president was passed. Two more articles, for abuse of power and contempt of Congress, wereapproved on July 29 and 30.On August 5,Nixon complied witha U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring thathe provide transcripts of the missing tapes, and the new evidence clearly implicated him in a cover up of the Watergate break-in. On August 8, Nixon announced his resignation, becoming the first president in U.S. history to voluntarily leave office. After departing the White House on August 9,Nixon was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford, who, in a controversial move, pardoned Nixon on September 8, 1974, making it impossible for the former president to be prosecuted for any crimes he might have committed while in office. Only two other presidents in U.S. historyhave beenimpeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998.

July 26, 1775: U.S. postal system established

Previously posted at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-postal-system-established

On this day in 1775, the U.S. postal system is established by the Second Continental Congress, with Benjamin Franklin as its first postmaster general. Franklin (1706-1790) put in place the foundation for many aspects of today’s mail system. During early colonial times in the 1600s, few American colonists needed to send mail to each other; it was more likely that their correspondence was with letter writers in Britain. Mail deliveries from across the Atlantic were sporadic and could take many months to arrive. There were no post offices in the colonies, so mail was typically left at inns and taverns. In 1753, Benjamin Franklin, who had been postmaster of Philadelphia, became one of two joint postmasters general for the colonies. He made numerous improvements to the mail system, including setting up new, more efficient colonial routes and cutting delivery time in half between Philadelphia and New York by having the weekly mail wagon travel both day and night via relay teams. Franklin also debuted the first rate chart, which standardized delivery costs based on distance and weight. In 1774, the British fired Franklin from his postmaster job because of his revolutionary activities. However, the following year, he was appointed postmaster general of the United Colonies by the Continental Congress. Franklin held the job until late in 1776, when he was sent to France as a diplomat. He left a vastly improved mail system, with routes from Florida to Maine and regular service between the colonies and Britain. President George Washington appointed Samuel Osgood, a former Massachusetts congressman, as the first postmaster general of the American nation under the new U.S. constitution in 1789. At the time, there were approximately 75 post offices in the country.

Today, the United States has over 40,000 post offices and the postal service delivers 212 billion pieces of mail each year to over 144 million homes and businesses in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the American Virgin Islands and American Samoa. The postal service is the nation’s largest civilian employer, with over 700,000 career workers, who handle more than 44 percent of the world’s cards and letters. The postal service is a not-for-profit, self-supporting agency that covers its expenses through postage (stamp use in the United States started in 1847) and related products. The postal service gets the mail delivered, rain or shine, using everything from planes to mules. However, it’s not cheap: The U.S. Postal Service says that when fuel costs go up by just one penny, its own costs rise by $8 million.

July 25, 1978: World’s First Test Tube Baby Born

Previously posted at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/worlds-first-test-tube-baby-born

On this day in 1978, Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first baby to be conceived via in vitro fertilization (IVF) is born at Oldham and District General Hospital in Manchester, England, to parents Lesley and Peter Brown. The healthy baby was delivered shortly before midnight by caesarean section and weighed in at five pounds, 12 ounces.

Before giving birth to Louise, Lesley Brown had suffered years of infertility due to blocked fallopian tubes. In November 1977, she underwent the then-experimental IVF procedure. A mature egg was removed from one of her ovaries and combined in a laboratory dish with her husband’s sperm to form an embryo. The embryo then was implanted into her uterus a few days later. Her IVF doctors, British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe and scientist Robert Edwards, had begun their pioneering collaboration a decade earlier. Once the media learned of the pregnancy, the Browns faced intense public scrutiny. Louise’s birth made headlines around the world and raised various legal and ethical questions.

The Browns had a second daughter, Natalie, several years later, also through IVF. In May 1999, Natalie became the first IVF baby to give birth to a child of her own. The child’s conception was natural, easing some concerns that female IVF babies would be unable to get pregnant naturally. In December 2006, Louise Brown, the original “test tube baby,” gave birth to a boy, Cameron John Mullinder, who also was conceived naturally.

Today, IVF is considered a mainstream medical treatment for infertility. Hundreds of thousands of children around the world have been conceived through the procedure, in some cases with donor eggs and sperm.

July 24, 1911: Machu Picchu discovered

Previously posted at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/machu-picchu-discovered

On July 24, 1911, American archeologist Hiram Bingham gets his first look at Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca settlement in Peru that is now one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

Tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a summer retreat for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century. For hundreds of years afterwards, its existence was a secret known only to the peasants living in the region. That all changed in the summer of 1911, when Bingham arrived with a small team of explorers to search for the famous “lost” cities of the Incas.

Traveling on foot and by mule, Bingham and his team made their way from Cuzco into the Urubamba Valley, where a local farmer told them of some ruins located at the top of a nearby mountain. The farmer called the mountain Machu Picchu, which meant “Old Peak” in the native Quechua language. The next day–July 24–after a tough climb to the mountain’s ridge in cold and drizzly weather, Bingham met a small group of peasants who showed him the rest of the way. Led by an 11-year-old boy, Bingham got his first glimpse of the intricate network of stone terraces marking the entrance to Machu Picchu.

The excited Bingham spread the word about his discovery in a best-selling book, sending hordes of eager tourists flocking to Peru to follow in his footsteps up the Inca trail. The site itself stretches an impressive five miles, with over 3,000 stone steps linking its many different levels. Today, more than 300,000 people tramp through Machu Picchu every year, braving crowds and landslides to see the sun set over the towering stone monuments of the “Sacred City” and marvel at the mysterious splendor of one of the world’s most famous man-made wonders.

July 23, 1984: Miss America resigns

Previously posted at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/miss-america-resigns

On this day in 1984, 21-year-old Vanessa Williams gives up her Miss America title, the first resignation in the pageant’s history, after Penthouse magazine announces plans to publish nude photos of the beauty queen in its September issue. Williams originally made history on September 17, 1983, when she became the first black woman to win the Miss America crown. Miss New Jersey, Suzette Charles, the first runner-up and also an African American, assumed Williams’ tiara for the two months that remained of her reign.

Vanessa Lynn Williams was born March 18, 1963, in Millwood, New York, to music teacher parents. She attended Syracuse University and studied musical theater. In 1982, while working a summer job as a receptionist at a modeling agency in Mt. Kisco, New York, photographer Thomas Chiapel took the nude pictures of Williams, telling her they’d be shot in silhouette and that she wouldn’t be recognizable. After Williams became Miss America, the photographer sold the pictures to Penthouse without her knowledge. Williams later dropped lawsuits against the magazine and photographer after it was learned that she had signed a model release form at the time the photos were taken.

The Miss America pageant, which prides itself on projecting a wholesome, positive image of women, began in 1921 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as a stunt developed by local businessmen to extend the summer tourist season. In 1945, the Miss America Organization handed out its first scholarship. Today, it provides over $45 million each year in cash and tuition assistance to contestants on the national, state and local levels. In 1954, the competition was broadcast live for the first time. Beginning in the 1980s, contestants were required to have a social platform, such as drunk-driving preventionor AIDS awareness, and Miss America winners now travel an estimated 20,000 miles a month for speaking engagements and public appearances. In 2006, following a decline in TV ratings, the pageant moved from Atlantic City for the first time in its history and took place in Las Vegas, where a new Miss America was crowned in January instead of September.

Vanessa Williams rebounded from the Miss America scandal and went on to a successful entertainment career as an actress and recording artist, performing on Broadway as well as in movies and television and releasing a number of popular albums.