Monthly Archives: March 2019

Germany’s Atlantis launches

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On this day, the German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis sets off on a mission to catch and sink Allied merchant ships.

By the time the Atlantis set sail from Germany, the Allies had already lost more than 750,000 tons worth of shipping, the direct result of German submarine attacks. They had also lost another 281,000 tons because of mines, and 36,000 tons as the result of German air raids. The Germans had lost just eighteen submarines.

The Atlantis had been a merchant ship itself, but was converted to a commerce raider with six 5.9-inch guns, 93 mines ready to plant, and two aircraft fit for spying out Allied ships to sink. The Atlantis donned various disguises in order to integrate itself into any shipping milieu inconspicuously.

Commanded by Capt. Bernhard Rogge, the Atlantis roamed the Atlantic and Indian oceans. She sank a total of 22 merchant ships (146,000 tons in all) and proved a terror to the British Royal Navy. The Atlantis‘s career finally came to an end on November 22, 1941, when it was sunk by the British cruiser Devonshire as the German marauder was refueling a U-boat.

Eiffel Tower opens

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On March 31, 1889, the Eiffel Tower is dedicated in Paris in a ceremony presided over by Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s designer, and attended by French Prime Minister Pierre Tirard, a handful of other dignitaries, and 200 construction workers.

In 1889, to honor of the centenary of the French Revolution, the French government planned an international exposition and announced a design competition for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris. Out of more than 100 designs submitted, the Centennial Committee chose Eiffel’s plan of an open-lattice wrought-iron tower that would reach almost 1,000 feet above Paris and be the world’s tallest man-made structure. Eiffel, a noted bridge builder, was a master of metal construction and designed the framework of the Statue of Liberty that had recently been erected in New York Harbor.

Eiffel’s tower was greeted with skepticism from critics who argued that it would be structurally unsound, and indignation from others who thought it would be an eyesore in the heart of Paris. Unperturbed, Eiffel completed his great tower under budget in just two years. Only one worker lost his life during construction, which at the time was a remarkably low casualty number for a project of that magnitude. The light, airy structure was by all accounts a technological wonder and within a few decades came to be regarded as an architectural masterpiece.

The Eiffel Tower is 984 feet tall and consists of an iron framework supported on four masonry piers, from which rise four columns that unite to form a single vertical tower. Platforms, each with an observation deck, are at three levels. Elevators ascend the piers on a curve, and Eiffel contracted the Otis Elevator Company of the United States to design the tower’s famous glass-cage elevators.

The elevators were not completed by March 31, 1889, however, so Gustave Eiffel ascended the tower’s stairs with a few hardy companions and raised an enormous French tricolor on the structure’s flagpole. Fireworks were then set off from the second platform. Eiffel and his party descended, and the architect addressed the guests and about 200 workers. In early May, the Paris International Exposition opened, and the tower served as the entrance gateway to the giant fair.

The Eiffel Tower remained the world’s tallest man-made structure until the completion of the Chrysler Building in New York in 1930. Incredibly, the Eiffel Tower was almost demolished when the International Exposition’s 20-year lease on the land expired in 1909, but its value as an antenna for radio transmission saved it. It remains largely unchanged today and is one of the world’s premier tourist attractions.

Knute Rockne, Studebaker namesake, dies

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On this day in 1931, Knute Rockne, the legendary Notre Dame football coach and namesake of the Studebaker Rockne line of autos, is killed in a plane crash near Bazaar, Kansas, at the age of 43.

The roots of the Studebaker Corporation date back to 1852, when siblings Henry and Clement Studebaker opened a blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana. Studebaker eventually became a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn wagons and supplied the U.S. Army with wagons during the Civil War. Around the turn of the century, Studebaker joined America’s burgeoning auto industry, launching an electric car in 1902 and a gas-powered vehicle two years later that was marketed under the name Studebaker-Garford. After partnering with other automakers, Studebaker began selling gas-powered cars under its own name in 1913, while continuing to make wagons until 1920.

Born on March 4, 1888, in Voss, Norway, Knute Rockne moved to Chicago, Illinois, with his family when he was 5. He attended the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, where he played football for the Fighting Irish and was a stellar student. From 1918 to 1930, the charismatic Rockne was head coach of the school’s football team, compiling a record of 105 wins, 12 losses, 5 ties and 6 national championships. His players included the All-American George “Gipper” Gip (1895–1920), the inspiration for Rockne’s now-famous motivational line “Win one for the Gipper.” In the late 1920s, Studebaker, then the world’s 10th-biggest automaker, signed Rockne to give motivational talks at auto conventions and dealership events.

After Rockne died on March 31, 1931, while flying to Los Angeles to assist with the production of the movie “The Spirit of Notre Dame,” Studebaker decided to name its new line of low-priced vehicles after the revered coach. The company agreed to pay Rockne’s widow 25 cents for each car it sold. Studebaker went on to make some 38,000 Rocknes for the model years 1932 and 1933; however, at the time, the auto industry had been hobbled by the Great Depression and in March 1933, Studebaker, which was heavily in debt, was forced into receivership. The company pulled the plug on the Rockne line later that year.

Studebaker eventually rebounded, but by the 1950s, the company, which merged with Packard in 1954, was again facing financial troubles. In December 1963, with the closure of its South Bend production plant, Studebaker quit building cars in the United States. The company’s Hamilton, Ontario, facilities remained in operation until March 1966, when Studebaker shut its doors for good after 114 years in business.

Jews to be expelled from Spain

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In Spain, a royal edict is issued by the nation’s Catholic rulers declaring that all Jews who refuse to convert to Christianity will be expelled from the country. Most Spanish Jews chose exile rather than the renunciation of their religion and culture, and the Spanish economy suffered with the loss of an important portion of its workforce. Many Spanish Jews went to North Africa, the Netherlands, and the Americas, where their skills, capital, and commercial connections were put to good use. Among those who chose conversion, some risked their lives by secretly practicing Judaism, while many sincere converts were nonetheless persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish Muslims, or Moors, were ordered to convert to Christianity in 1502.

Dalai Lama begins exile

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The Dalai Lama, fleeing the Chinese suppression of a national uprising in Tibet, crosses the border into India, where he is granted political asylum.

Born in Taktser, China, as Tensin Gyatso, he was designated the 14th Dalai Lama in 1940, a position that eventually made him the religious and political leader of Tibet. At the beginning of the 20th century, Tibet increasingly came under Chinese control, and in 1950 communist China invaded the country. One year later, a Tibetan-Chinese agreement was signed in which the nation became a “national autonomous region” of China, supposedly under the traditional rule of the Dalai Lama but actually under the control of a Chinese communist commission. The highly religious people of Tibet, who practice a unique form of Buddhism, suffered under communist China’s anti-religious legislation.

After years of scattered protests, a full-scale revolt broke out in March 1959, and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee as the uprising was crushed by Chinese troops. On March 31, 1959, he began a permanent exile in India, settling at Dharamsala in Punjab, where he established a democratically based shadow Tibetan government. Back in Tibet, the Chinese adopted brutal repressive measures against the Tibetans, provoking charges from the Dalai Lama of genocide. With the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China, the Chinese suppression of Tibetan Buddhism escalated, and practice of the religion was banned and thousands of monasteries were destroyed.

Although the ban was lifted in 1976, protests in Tibet continued, and the exiled Dalai Lama won widespread international support for the Tibetan independence movement. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end the Chinese domination of Tibet.

Treaty of Kanagawa signed with Japan

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In Tokyo, Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, representing the U.S. government, signs the Treaty of Kanagawa with the Japanese government, opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American trade and permitting the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Japan.

In July 1853, Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay with a squadron of four U.S. vessels. For a time, Japanese officials refused to speak with Perry, but eventually they accepted letters from U.S. President Millard Fillmore, making the United States the first Western nation to establish relations with Japan since it was declared closed to foreigners in 1683.

After giving Japan time to consider the establishment of external relations, Perry returned to Tokyo in March 1854, and on March 31 signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, which opened Japan to trade with the United States, and thus the West. In April 1860, the first Japanese diplomats to visit a foreign power reached Washington, D.C., and remained in the U.S. capital for several weeks discussing expansion of trade with the United States.

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden wins 10th national title

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On this day in 1975, the University of Southern California (UCLA) Bruins basketball team wins its 10th NCAA championship title under coach John Wooden. Following the game, in which UCLA defeated the University of Kentucky, Wooden, considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball, announced his retirement. In 27 seasons coaching the Bruins, he transformed UCLA into a basketball powerhouse and compiled a record of 620-147.

Wooden was born in Hall, Indiana, on October 14, 1910, and raised on his family’s farm, which lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When he was in his early teens, Wooden’s parents lost the farm due to difficult economic conditions and the family moved to Martinsville, Indiana. There, Wooden led his high school team to the state basketball championship in 1927. He went on to play for Purdue University, where, at 5 feet 10 inches tall, he was a three-time All American guard and helped the Boilermakers win the national championship in 1932, his senior year. After graduation, Wooden spent two years teaching English and coaching basketball at Dayton High School in Kentucky, followed by nine years as a teacher and coach at Indiana’s South Bend Central High School. His record for 11 seasons as a high school coach was 218-42.

During World War II, Wooden was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, serving as a physical education trainer. After being discharged from the military in 1946, he coached basketball and baseball at Indiana State before he was hired in 1948 for the top basketball coaching job at UCLA. In the two decades prior to Wooden’s arrival, the Bruins had just three winning seasons. During Wooden’s first year at the helm, the team compiled a 22-7 record and finished first place in its division.

In 1964, UCLA won its first NCAA championship, defeating Duke University. The next year, the Bruins captured their second championship title, beating the University of Michigan. The following year, 1966, marked the only time between 1964 and 1973 that the Bruins failed to claim the championship. From 1971 to 1974, the Bruins won an unprecedented 88 consecutive games, an NCAA record that still holds. Additionally, the team went undefeated a record four seasons (1964, 1967, 1972, 1973). During this era, Wooden, dubbed the “Wizard of Westwood” (a reference to the Westwood section of Los Angeles, where UCLA is located), coached such players as Lewis Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton.

Key to Wooden’s success, according to The Los Angeles Times, was that he “built his dynasty on simple precepts. He insisted that his squad be meticulously prepared and in top physical condition. No detail was overlooked. The first practice of each season, the coach would remind his players about pulling on socks smoothly and carefully lacing sneakers–there would be no excuse for debilitating blisters. His workouts were so grueling that former players said they often were relieved to play in games.”

On March 31, 1975, UCLA won its 10th NCAA championship title under Wooden, beating Kentucky 92-85. To date, no other coach has won as many NCAA titles. Wooden retired following that game, and the Bruins did not win another national championship until 1995. The recipient of numerous awards, Wooden was the first person named to the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and coach. After retiring, he continued to attend UCLA games and was in demand as a public speaker. The legendary coach died at age 99 of natural causes in Los Angeles on June 4, 2010.

Napoleon's forces defeated in Paris

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European forces allied against Napoleonic France march triumphantly into Paris, formally ending a decade of French domination on the Continent.

Napoleon, one of the greatest military strategists in history, seized control of the French state in 1800, and in 1804 was crowned emperor. By 1807, he controlled an empire that stretched across Europe. In 1812, however, he began to encounter the first significant defeats of his military career, suffering through a disastrous invasion of Russia, losing Spain to the Duke of Wellington, and enduring total defeat against an allied force in 1814. Exiled to the island of Elba, he escaped to France in early 1815 and raised a new Grand Army that enjoyed temporary success before its crushing defeat at Waterloo. He was then exiled to the island of St. Helena, where he died six years later.

Violence disrupts first Kansas election

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In territorial Kansas’ first election, some 5,000 so-called “Border Ruffians” invade the territory from western Missouri and force the election of a pro-slavery legislature. Although the number of votes cast exceeded the number of eligible voters in the territory, Kansas Governor Andrew Reeder reluctantly approved the election to prevent further bloodshed.

Trouble in territorial Kansas began with the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act by President Franklin Pierce in 1854. The act stipulated that settlers in the newly created territories of Nebraska and Kansas would decide by popular vote whether their territory would be free or slave. A few months after pro-slavery forces defrauded Kansas’ first election, the Kansas Free State forces were formed, armed by supporters in the North and featuring the leadership of militant abolitionist John Brown. In May 1856, Border Ruffians sacked the abolitionist town of Lawrence, and in retaliation a small Free State force under John Brown massacred five pro-slavery Kansans along the Pottawatomie Creek.

During the next four years, raids, skirmishes, and massacres continued in “Bleeding Kansas,” as it became popularly known. In 1861, the irrepressible differences in Kansas were swallowed up by the outbreak of full-scale civil war in America.

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

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Of his many enormous hits in the 1970s, none captured the essence of John Denver better than his first #1 song, “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” which reached the top of the pop charts on this day in 1974.

“Sunshine On My Shoulders” was John Denver’s attempt to write a sad song, which is really all one needs to know in order to understand what made Denver so appealing to so many. “I was so down I wanted to write a feeling-blue song,” he told Seventeen magazine in 1974, “[but] this is what came out.” Originally released on his 1971 album Poems, Prayers and Promises, Denver’s lovely ode to the restorative powers of sunlight only became a smash hit when re-released on his John Denver‘s Greatest Hits album in late 1973—an album that went on to sell more than 10 million copies worldwide.

It should come as no surprise that an artist who played such an enormous role in the softening of mainstream pop music in the 1970s would find little support from rock critics. “Television music” marked by “repellent narcissism” was Rolling Stone‘s take on Denver. “I find that sunshine makes me happy, too,” wrote Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, “[but] there’s more originality and spirit in Engelbert Humperdinck.”

Such critical response did little to dampen public enthusiasm for Denver’s records during his heyday, however. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, John Denver has sold 32.5 million records—4.5 million more than Michael Bolton, and only 4.5 million fewer than Bob Dylan.

Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. on December 31, 1943, in Roswell, New Mexico, John Denver died in California on October 12, 1997, when his ultra-light aircraft crashed into Monterey Bay.