All posts by sleuthboss

Business magnate and famed aviator Howard Hughes dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/howard-hughes-dies

Howard Robard Hughes, one of the richest men to emerge from the American West during the 20th century, dies while flying from Acapulco to Houston.

Born in Houston, Texas, in 1905, Hughes inherited an estate of nearly a million dollars when his father died in 1923. Hughes’ father also left him the business that had created this fortune, the Hughes Tool Company, which controlled the rights to a new oil drill technology that was in high demand. The young Hughes quickly began to expand his business empire into new fields. In 1926, he moved to Hollywood, where he became involved in the rapidly growing movie industry. He produced several popular films, including Hell’s Angels, Scarface and The Outlaw.

Fascinated with the new technology of airplanes, Hughes also invested heavily in the burgeoning West Coast aviation industry. With some training in engineering from the California Institute of Technology and the Rice Institute of Technology, Hughes designed his own aircraft and then had his Hughes Aircraft Company build it. In 1935, he piloted one of his airplanes to a new world-speed record of 352.46 mph. His reputation as an aircraft designer and builder suffered after an ill-fated WWII government-sponsored project to build an immense plane that Hughes claimed would be able to transport 750 passengers. Nicknamed the Spruce Goose, Hughes’ monstrosity flew only once: a one-mile hop on November 2, 1947.

Never an extrovert, Hughes became increasingly reclusive after 1950. Operating through managers who rarely saw him in person, he bought up vast tracts of real estate in California, Arizona, and Nevada that skyrocketed in value. In 1967, he became involved in the Nevada gambling industry when he purchased the famous Desert Inn Hotel on the Las Vegas strip. Nevada gaming authorities welcomed Hughes’ involvement because it counteracted the popular image that the Mafia dominated the gambling industry. By the early 1970s, Hughes had become the largest single landholder in Nevada, and with around 8,000 Nevada residents on his payroll, Hughes was also the state’s largest employer.

Although the rumors of Hughes’ bizarre behavior have been exaggerated—in part due to a fraudulent memoir published in 1971—in his final years the billionaire became even more obsessed with privacy. He continually moved between his residences in Las Vegas, the Bahamas, Nicaragua, Canada, England and Mexico. Other than a few male aides, almost nobody saw Hughes, and he sometimes worked for days at a stretch in a black-curtained room without sleeping.

Emaciated and deranged from too little food and too many drugs, Hughes finally became so ill that his aides decided that he needed medical treatment. He died in his airplane en route from Acapulco to Houston at the age of 70.

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Howard Hughes

FDR creates Civilian Conservation Corps

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fdr-creates-civilian-conservation-corps

On April 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt establishes the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), an innovative federally funded organization that put thousands of Americans to work during the Great Depression on projects with environmental benefits.

In 1932, FDR took America’s political helm during the country’s worst economic crisis, declaring a “government worthy of its name must make a fitting response” to the suffering of the unemployed. He implemented the CCC a little over one month into his presidency as part of his administration’s “New Deal” plan for social and economic progress. The CCC reflected FDR’s deep commitment to environmental conservation. He waxed poetic when lobbying for the its passage, declaring “the forests are the lungs of our land [which] purify our air and give fresh strength to our people.”

The CCC, also known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” was open to unemployed, unmarried U.S. male citizens between the ages of 18 and 26. All recruits had to be healthy and were expected to perform hard physical labor. Blacks were placed in de-facto segregated camps, although administrators denied the practice of discrimination. Enlistment in the program was for a minimum of 6 months; many re-enlisted after their first term. Participants were paid $30 a month and often given supplemental basic and vocational education while they served. Under the guidance of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, CCC employees fought forest fires, planted trees, cleared and maintained access roads, re-seeded grazing lands and implemented soil-erosion controls. They built wildlife refuges, fish-rearing facilities, water storage basins and animal shelters. To encourage citizens to get out and enjoy America’s natural resources, FDR authorized the CCC to build bridges and campground facilities. From 1933 to 1942, the CCC employed over 3 million men.

Of Roosevelt’s many New Deal policies, the CCC is considered by many to be one of the most enduring and successful. It provided the model for future state and federal conservation programs. In 1942, Congress discontinued appropriations for the CCC, diverting the desperately needed funds to the effort to win World War II.

READ MORE: Did New Deal Programs Help End the Great Depression?

George Washington exercises first presidential veto

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/washington-exercises-first-presidential-veto

George Washington exercises the first presidential veto of a Congressional bill on April 5, 1792. The bill introduced a new plan for dividing seats in the House of Representatives that would have increased the amount of seats for northern states. After consulting with his politically divided and contentious cabinet, Washington, who came from the southern state of Virginia, ultimately decided that the plan was unconstitutional because, in providing for additional representatives for some states, it would have introduced a number of representatives higher than that proscribed by the Constitution.

After a discussion with the president, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter that votes for or against the bill were divided along perfectly geographical lines between the North and South. Jefferson observed that Washington feared that a veto would incorrectly portray him as biased toward the South. 

In the end, Jefferson was able to convince the president to veto the bill on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and introduced principles that were liable to be abused in the future. Jefferson suggested apportionment instead be derived from arithmetical operation, about which no two men can ever possibly differ.” Washington’s veto sent the bill back to Congress. Though representatives could have attempted to overrule the veto with a two-thirds vote, Congress instead threw out the original bill and instituted a new one that apportioned representatives at “the ratio of one for every thirty-three thousand persons in the respective States.”

Washington exercised his veto power only one other time during his two terms in office. In February 1797, the former commanding general of the Continental Army vetoed an act that would have reduced the number of cavalry units in the army.

READ MORE: Presidential Vetoes 

Yugoslavian partisan leader Tito signs “friendship treaty” with Soviet Union

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/tito-signs-friendship-treaty-with-soviet-union

On April 5, 1945, Yugoslav partisan leader Tito signs an agreement permitting “temporary entry of Soviet troops into Yugoslav territory.”

Josip Broz, alias “Tito,” secretary general of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, led a partisan counteroffensive movement against the Axis occupying powers of Germany and Italy in 1941. Recognized by the Allies as the leader of the Yugoslav resistance, he was, in fact, the leader of a power grab meant not only to expel the Axis forces but to wrest control of Yugoslavia in the postwar environment from both royalist and democratic movements. Once the Soviet army liberated Serbia, the fate of Yugoslavia as a communist-dominated nation was sealed. Tito’s task now lay in remaining independent of both the U.S.S.R. and the West. To this end, he created a “second Yugoslavia,” a socialist federation that became known for its nonalignment stance.

As part of the agreement signed on April 5, 1945, Tito secured a proviso that the Soviets would leave Yugoslavia once its “operational task” was completed. Ensuring compliance with this clause proved problematic, as Stalin tried to maintain a presence in postwar Yugoslavia, attempting to co-opt the Yugoslav Communist Party and create another puppet state. He failed; Tito played the West against the East in a Machiavellian scheme to keep his own Stalin-like grip on his country. Although he permitted cultural and scientific freedom unheard of in Soviet-bloc countries, he was also guilty of purging centrist and democratic forces fighting for reform within Yugoslavia and centralizing all power in one party. But upon Tito’s death, in 1980, the center could not hold–chaos was ultimately unleashed in the form of ethnic civil war.

President Lincoln dreams about his assassination

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-dreams-about-a-presidential-assassination

According to the recollection of one of his friends, Ward Hill Lamon, President Abraham Lincoln dreams on this night in 1865 of “the subdued sobs of mourners” and a corpse lying on a catafalque in the White House East Room. In the dream, Lincoln asked a soldier standing guard “Who is dead in the White House?” to which the soldier replied, “the President. He was killed by an assassin.” Lincoln woke up at that point. On April 11, he told Lamon that the dream had “strangely annoyed” him ever since. Ten days after having the dream, Lincoln was shot dead by an assassin while attending the theater.

READ MORE: Does the Ghost of Lincoln Haunt the White House?

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks out against the war

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/martin-luther-king-jr-speaks-out-against-the-war

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, delivers a speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam” in front of 3,000 people at Riverside Church in New York City. In it, he says that there is a common link forming between the civil rights and peace movements. King proposed that the United States stop all bombing of North and South Vietnam; declare a unilateral truce in the hope that it would lead to peace talks; set a date for withdrawal of all troops from Vietnam; and give the National Liberation Front a role in negotiations.

King had been a solid supporter of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Great Society, but he became increasingly concerned about U.S. involvement in Vietnam and, as his concerns became more public, his relationship with the Johnson administration deteriorated. King came to view U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia as little more than imperialism. Additionally, he believed that the Vietnam War diverted money and attention from domestic programs created to aid the black poor. Furthermore, he said, ‘the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home…We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.’” 

King maintained his antiwar stance and supported peace movements until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, one year to the day after delivering his Beyond Vietnam speech.

Germans and Allies step up operations near Somme

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/germans-and-allies-step-up-operations-near-somme

On this day in 1918, German forces in the throes of a major spring offensive on the Western Front launch a renewed attack on Allied positions between the Somme and Avre Rivers.

The first stage of the German offensive, dubbed “Operation Michael,” began March 21, 1918; by the first days of April it had resulted in a gain of almost 40 miles of territory for the Germans, the largest advance in the west for either side since 1914. After initial panic, the Allies had managed to stabilize and strengthen their defense, stopping the Germans at Moreuil Wood on March 30 and continuing their hardy defense of the crucial railroad junction and town of Amiens, France, just south of the Somme.

With a bombardment by more than 1,200 guns and a total of 15 divisions sent against only seven of the enemy’s, the Germans attacked in force at Villers-Bretonneux on April 4. Again, British and Australian troops reacted with panic in the face of such an onslaught, but soon rallied to drive back their attackers. At the same time, French divisions made their own advances along the front running between the towns of Castel and Cantigny, to the south of Villers-Bretonneux.

Also on April 4, German military officials announced that their attacks in the Somme region had claimed a total of 90,000 Allied prisoners since March 21. The following day, Erich Ludendorff, chief of the German general staff, formally closed down the Michael offensive; the second phase of the attacks, “Georgette,” would begin four days later in Flanders.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dr-king-is-assassinated

Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.

In the months before his assassination, Martin Luther King became increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America. He organized a Poor People’s Campaign to focus on the issue, including a march on Washington, and in March 1968 traveled to Memphis in support of poorly treated African-American sanitation workers. On March 28, a workers’ protest march led by King ended in violence and the death of an African American teenager. King left the city but vowed to return in early April to lead another demonstration.

On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King, Jr.

One day after speaking those words, Dr. King was shot and killed by a sniper. As word of the assassination spread, riots broke out in cities all across the United States and National Guard troops were deployed in Memphis and Washington, D.C. On April 9, King was laid to rest in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to King’s casket as it passed by in a wooden farm cart drawn by two mules.

The body of the slain Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lies in state at the R.S. Lewis funeral home in Memphis, Tennessee. Hundreds of mourners filed in on April 5, 1968, before his body was sent to Atlanta for burial. 

View the 11 images of this gallery on the original article

The evening of King’s murder, a Remington .30-06 hunting rifle was found on the sidewalk beside a rooming house one block from the Lorraine Motel. During the next several weeks, the rifle, eyewitness reports, and fingerprints on the weapon all implicated a single suspect: escaped convict James Earl Ray. A two-bit criminal, Ray escaped a Missouri prison in April 1967 while serving a sentence for a holdup. In May 1968, a massive manhunt for Ray began. The FBI eventually determined that he had obtained a Canadian passport under a false identity, which at the time was relatively easy.

On June 8, Scotland Yard investigators arrested Ray at a London airport. He was trying to fly to Belgium, with the eventual goal, he later admitted, of reaching Rhodesia. Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, was at the time ruled by an oppressive and internationally condemned white minority government. Extradited to the United States, Ray stood before a Memphis judge in March 1969 and pleaded guilty to King’s murder in order to avoid the electric chair. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Three days later, he attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming he was innocent of King’s assassination and had been set up as a patsy in a larger conspiracy. He claimed that in 1967, a mysterious man named “Raoul” had approached him and recruited him into a gunrunning enterprise. On April 4, 1968, he said, he realized that he was to be the fall guy for the King assassination and fled to Canada. Ray’s motion was denied, as were his dozens of other requests for a trial during the next 29 years.

READ MORE: Why Martin Luther King’s Family Believes James Earl Ray Was Not His Killer

During the 1990s, the widow and children of Martin Luther King Jr. spoke publicly in support of Ray and his claims, calling him innocent and speculating about an assassination conspiracy involving the U.S. government and military. U.S. authorities were, in conspiracists’ minds, implicated circumstantially. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover obsessed over King, who he thought was under communist influence. For the last six years of his life, King underwent constant wiretapping and harassment by the FBI. Before his death, Dr. King was also monitored by U.S. military intelligence, which may have been asked to watch King after he publicly denounced the Vietnam War in 1967. Furthermore, by calling for radical economic reforms in 1968, including guaranteed annual incomes for all, King was making few new friends in the Cold War-era U.S. government.

Over the years, the assassination has been reexamined by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the Shelby County, Tennessee, district attorney’s office, and three times by the U.S. Justice Department. The investigations all ended with the same conclusion: James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King. The House committee acknowledged that a low-level conspiracy might have existed, involving one or more accomplices to Ray, but uncovered no evidence to definitively prove this theory. In addition to the mountain of evidence against him–such as his fingerprints on the murder weapon and his admitted presence at the rooming house on April 4–Ray had a definite motive in assassinating King: hatred. According to his family and friends, he was an outspoken racist who informed them of his intent to kill Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He died in 1998.

World Trade Center, then the world's tallest building, opens in New York City

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/world-trade-center-opens-in-new-york-city

The “Twin Towers” of the World Trade Center officially open in New York City. The buildings replaced the Empire State Building as the world’s tallest building. Though they would only hold that title for a year, they remained a dominant feature of the city’s skyline and were recognizable the world over long before they were destroyed in a terrorist attack in 2001.

Planning, designing and clearing space for the World Trade Center took over a decade. The New York State Legislature originally approved the idea in 1943, but concrete plans did not materialize until the 1960s. The deal that created the new complex, of which the Twin Towers would be the centerpiece, also included the creation of the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation, or PATH, to operate the trains which entered Manhattan from New Jersey on what was to become the grounds of the WTC. Architect Minoru Yamasaki drew inspiration from Arabic architecture for the towers’ design. In order to efficiently move people up and down the 110-story towers, Yamasaki and his team developed the concept of express elevators—based on the New York City Subway’s system of express and local trains—that traveled directly to “sky lobbies” on the 44 and 78 floor, from which “local” elevators ran to neighboring floors. The first tenants moved into the North Tower in December of 1970, with the official opening of both buildings taking place over two years later.

The towers’ construction ended the Empire State Building’s 41-year run as the tallest building in the world. They were replaced by Chicago’s Sears Tower the following year, an indication of the rising trend of supertall construction. The World Trade Center dramatically altered the New York skyline and the cityscape of Lower Manhattan. As such, they were often used as a shorthand for the area in visual media, and were frequently included in establishing shots of films set in New York. Though most of the World Trade Center was occupied by office space, the Top of the World Observation Deck on the South Tower became a popular tourist destination, as did the North Tower’s Windows on the World restaurant, which featured its own wine school.

The towers were first targeted by terrorists in 1993, when a bomb exploded in the garage under the North Tower, killing six and injuring over 1,000. The Twin Towers were destroyed, and were the site of the vast majorities of the casualties, on September 11, 2001, a final chapter that has since overshadowed the rest of the World Trade Center’s story. The building that replaced them, One World Trade Center, was completed in 2014 and is currently the seventh-tallest building in the world.

Hank Aaron ties Babe Ruth's home run record

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hank-aaron-ties-babe-ruths-home-run-record

As the 1974 Major League Baseball season began, all eyes were on Hank Aaron. He had finished 1973 with 713 career home runs, one shy of the all-time record set by Babe Ruth. On April 4, Opening Day, a 39-year-old Aaron sent the very first pitch he saw over the wall, finally tying Ruth and setting the stage for his ascent to the top of the all-time home runs list.

Aaron, who played in the majors from 1954 until 1976, was known for his longevity and consistency in addition to his power-hitting. He had hit 40 homers the previous season, drawing the nation’s attention as he approached Ruth’s record. The Post Office declared that Aaron received the most mail of any private citizen in the country, and although the majority was positive he was also the recipient of hate mail and death threats. Ruth’s record had stood for four decades, and racist fans were upset at the thought of Aaron, one of the last MLB players to have played in the Negro Leagues, breaking it.

The ownership of the Braves wanted to sit Aaron for the first series of the 1974 season to ensure that he broke Ruth’s record in Atlanta. The league, however, insisted that he play at least two of the three games. It looked for all the world like he would break the record in Cincinnati after he homered on the very first pitch of the season, but 715 eluded him until he returned to Atlanta. He broke Ruth’s record in the fourth inning of the Atlanta Braves’ home opener on April 8.

Aaron retired two years later with a career total of 755 home runs. That record would stand until 2007, when it was broken by Barry Bonds, but Bonds’ well-documented and extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs has made his record illegitimate in the eyes of many fans and kept him out of the Hall of Fame. Aaron was inducted into the Hall in 1982, as soon as he was eligible, and continues to hold a number of MLB records.

READ MORE: Jackie Robinson’s Battles for Equality On and Off the Baseball Field