All posts by sleuthboss

Ronald Reagan becomes president

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ronald-reagan-becomes-president

Ronald Reagan, former Western movie actor and host of television’s popular “Death Valley Days” is sworn in as the 40th president of the United States.

More than any president since the Texas-born Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan’s public image was closely tied to the American West, although he was raised in the solidly Midwestern state of Illinois. In the 1930s, Reagan moved to California, where he became a moderately successful Hollywood actor. Thereafter, he always considered himself a true westerner in spirit.

Reagan’s image as a westerner was reinforced by his acting career. Although he acted in other genres as well, many of Reagan’s movies were B-grade Westerns like “Law and Order,” in which he played a sheriff who was the only law “from Dodge City to Tombstone!” When his movie career waned, Reagan made the transition to television as a host of the hugely popular showcase for western stories, “Death Valley Days.”

Reagan’s film and TV career not only won him public-name recognition but also helped establish his enduring “good-guy” reputation. A few of Reagan’s roles in non-western movies included men of questionable character, but in Westerns he usually played the brave and wholesome sheriff or cowboy who killed the outlaws, saved the school marm, and brought justice to the Wild West. Though it is difficult to estimate exactly how important such positive roles were for his subsequent political career, surely Reagan’s “white hat” movie image helped win him some confidence and votes.

Reagan’s politics also increasingly reflected the mythic western image of rugged independence and self-reliance. Although he had been a liberal New Deal Democrat as a young man, by the 1950s, Reagan had become a hard-line conservative. As president of the Screen Actor’s Guild (1947-52, 1959-60), he won national attention as an outspoken anticommunist, and he began to view even the mild federal socialism of the New Deal as destructive to individual initiative and freedom. Switching his allegiance to the Republican Party, Reagan won two terms as governor of California (1967-75), where he gained a devoted national following that helped him win the presidency.

During his eight years as president of the United States (1981-89), Reagan redefined the center in American politics, moving it away from the liberal Democrats and towards the conservative Republicans. Though his days as a western movie star were long past by then, Reagan continued to celebrate the mythic independence of the western pioneer as a parallel to modern conservatism. To drive home the point, Reagan made frequent and highly visible retreats to his California ranch, where he rode horses, fixed fences and cut firewood for the TV cameras. This president, Reagan’s actions seemed to say, was a self-reliant cowboy at heart and only a reluctant politician.

After a long struggle with Alzheimers disease, Reagan died on June 5, 2004. He was buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

FDR inaugurated to second term

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/franklin-delano-roosevelt-is-sworn-in-as-president

On January 20, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt is inaugurated for the second time as president, beginning the second of four terms in the office. His first inauguration, in 1933, had been held in March, but the 20th Amendment, passed later that year, made January 20 the official inauguration date for all future presidents. (The Constitution had originally set March 4 as the presidential inauguration date to make sure election officials had enough time to process returns and allow the winner time to travel to the nation’s capital.)

Since 1933, Americans have witnessed, either through radio or television, the swearing-in ceremonies of more than 12 presidents. Some have been more memorable than others.

Richard Nixon takes office

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/richard-nixon-takes-office

Richard Nixon is inaugurated as president of the United States and says, “After a period of confrontation [in Vietnam], we are entering an era of negotiation.” Eight years after losing to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election, Nixon had defeated Hubert H. Humphrey for the presidency.

Shortly after taking office, Nixon put his new team in place. William Rogers replaced Dean Rusk as Secretary of State, Melvin Laird replaced Clark Clifford as Secretary of Defense, and Henry Kissinger replaced Walt Rostow as National Security Adviser.

In 1962, Nixon ran for governor of California and lost in a bitter campaign to Edmund G. (“Pat”) Brown. Most observers believed that Nixon’s political career was over at that point, but by February 1968, he had sufficiently recovered his political standing in the Republican Party to announce his candidacy for president. Taking a stance between the more conservative elements of his party led by Ronald Reagan, and the liberal northeastern wing led by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Nixon won the nomination on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach.

For his running mate, he chose Spiro T. Agnew, the governor of Maryland. His Democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was weakened by internal divisions within his own party and the growing dissatisfaction with the Johnson administration’s handling of the war in Vietnam. Although Nixon and Humphrey each gained about 43 percent of the popular vote, the distribution of Nixon’s nearly 32 million votes gave him a clear majority in the electoral college.

Nazi officials discuss “Final Solution” at the Wannsee Conference

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-wannsee-conference

Nazi officials meet to discuss the details of the “Final Solution” of the “Jewish question.”

In July 1941, Hermann Goering, writing under instructions from Hitler, had ordered Reinhard Heydrich, SS general and Heinrich Himmler’s number-two man, to submit “as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative, material, and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired final solution of the Jewish question.”

Heydrich met with Adolf Eichmann, chief of the Central Office of Jewish Emigration, and 15 other officials from various Nazi ministries and organizations at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin. The agenda was simple and focused: to devise a plan that would render a “final solution to the Jewish question” in Europe. Various gruesome proposals were discussed, including mass sterilization and deportation to the island of Madagascar. Heydrich proposed simply transporting Jews from every corner Europe to concentration camps in Poland and working them to death. Objections to this plan included the belief that this was simply too time-consuming. What about the strong ones who took longer to die? What about the millions of Jews who were already in Poland? Although the word “extermination” was never uttered during the meeting, the implication was clear: anyone who survived the egregious conditions of a work camp would be “treated accordingly.”

Months later, the “gas vans” in Chelmno, Poland, which were killing 1,000 people a day, proved to be the “solution” they were looking for–the most efficient means of killing large groups of people at one time.

The minutes of this conference were kept with meticulous care, which later provided key evidence during the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

READ MORE: Preparations for the “Final Solution” begin

President Carter calls for Olympics to be moved from Moscow

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-carter-calls-for-olympics-to-be-moved-from-moscow

On January 20, 1980, in a letter to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and a television interview, U.S. President Jimmy Carter proposes that the 1980 Summer Olympics be moved from the planned host city, Moscow, if the Soviet Union failed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan within a month.

“It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is,” Carter declared. He argued that continued aggressive action by the Soviets would endanger athletes and spectators who traveled to Moscow for the games, and declared that if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declined to move the competition, American athletes should boycott the games. Lord Killanin, president of the IOC, reacted quickly to Carter’s statement, saying it was impossible to move the games from Moscow.

After the IOC denied Carter’s request, the USOC later voted to boycott the Moscow games, a decision that Carter announced on March 21, 1980. The boycott devastated the hopes of many U.S. athletes, especially after Carter backed it up with the law, promising to revoke the passports of American athletes who traveled to the games in violation of the boycott. For his part, Killanin called the U.S. boycott a violation of the Olympic charter, pointing out that Moscow had been awarded the games in the mid-1970s as part of a binding contract–one that could only be broken if the Soviets breached their own responsibilities first.

The United States was one of some 60 countries that eventually boycotted the Moscow Olympics, though some countries that didn’t officially send teams took no action against individual athletes who chose to go. Among U.S. allies, Great Britain, Sweden, France and Italy sent teams. The Soviet Union dominated the other 80 participating nations, winning 195 medals (80 gold) in 1980, in one of the most lopsided Olympics ever. Four years later, the Soviets returned the slight with a boycott of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, saying they were worried about the safety of their athletes given the strongly anti-Communist environment that existed in the United States. In an interesting contrast, Communist-led China decided to attend the games for the first time in 32 years, bringing the total number of participating countries to a record high 140.

Marvin Gaye's hit single "What's Going On?" released

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marvin-gaye-whats-going-on-released

January 20, 1971, sees the release of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” In addition to being a massive hit, the song marked a turning point in Gaye’s career and in the trajectory of Motown.

Gaye achieved popularity in the 1960s with songs like “How Sweet it Is (To Be Loved by You)” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” prime examples of the “Motown Sound” which blended soul, rock, and pop and is often credited with a leading role in the racial integration of popular music in America. Gaye’s record label, Tamla, was an imprint of Motown Records, and as such Gaye’s work was guided and supervised by legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy. Gaye’s early music, like that of many Motown artists, was innovative and increasingly sensual but hardly political.

“What’s Going On?” originated with Ronaldo “Obie” Benson, a member of the Motown group the Four Tops, who penned an early version after witnessing police violence against anti-Vietnam War protesters in Berkeley, California. Benson took the song to Gaye, whose brother had recently returned from the war and whose cousin had died in it, and Gaye made it his own. The song’s lyrics both implicitly references the violent rifts in American society (“Mother, mother/ there’s too many of you crying”) and explicitly questions the war (“We don’t need to escalate … war is not the answer/ for only love can conquer hate”). These lyrics made it ripe for controversy, enough that Gordy discouraged Gaye from recording the song, saying “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s taking things too far.”

Ultimately, Gaye went on a recording strike to force Gordy to release “What’s Going On?” Not many artists had the gumption or the clout to stand up to Gordy, and as such the single’s release foreshadowed his future disagreements with Gordy and eventual split with Motown. The single reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and would go on to be named the fourth-greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone. The album What’s Going On, released the following May, was a concept album that further explored Gaye’s opposition to the war as well as other sensitive topics like poverty and drug use. The song “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” is one of the earliest examples of environmentalist messaging in mainstream pop music. Critics continue to rate the album and its title track among the most influential recordings in modern musical history.

First McDonald’s drive-through opens in Beijing

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-mcdonalds-drive-through-opens-in-beijing

On January 19, 2007, Beijing, China, the capital city of the planet’s most populous nation, gets its first drive-through McDonald’s restaurant. The opening ceremony for the new two-story fast-food eatery, located next to a gas station, included traditional Chinese lion dancers and a Chinese Ronald McDonald. According to a report from The Associated Press at the time of the Beijing drive-through’s debut: “China’s double-digit economic growth has created a burgeoning market for cars, fast food and other consumer goods. The country overtook Japan last year to become the world’s second-biggest vehicle market after the U.S., with 7.2 million cars sold, a 37 percent growth.”

READ MORE: How McDonald’s Beat Its Early Competition and Became an Icon of Fast Food

Fast-food chains from foreign countries first came to China in 1987, with the opening of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. The home of the Big Mac and Happy Meal arrived in China three years later. In 2005, McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food chain, launched its first drive-through restaurant in China, in the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province, near Hong Kong. The Beijing drive-through was McDonald’s 16th Chinese drive-through. In September 2008, Chinadaily.com reported that other than America, “China is the No. 1 growth market for McDonald’s, with 960 restaurants and over 60,000 employees.”

McDonald’s opened its first drive-through in the U.S. in 1975. Before there were drive-throughs there were drive-in restaurants, where customers would place their orders at curbside speakers. Servers known as carhops, who often wore rollerskates, then would bring food orders directly to customers’ cars. Standard drive-in fare included hamburgers, hotdogs, root beer and milkshakes. Drive-ins reached the height of their popularity in the 1950s.

Robert E. Lee born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/robert-e-lee-born

Confederate General Robert Edward Lee is born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia during most of the Civil War and his brilliant battlefield leadership earned him a reputation as one of the greatest military leaders in history as he consistently defeated larger Union armies. 

Lee challenged Union forces during the war’s bloodiest battles, including Antietam and Gettysburg, before surrendering to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in 1865 at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, marking the end of the devastating conflict. 

He died at age 63 on October 12, 1870, following a stroke. 

READ MORE: How the Cult of Robert E. Lee Was Born

Man charged in California cyberstalking case

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/man-charged-in-california-cyberstalking-case

A mere three weeks after California passed a law against cyberstalking, Gary Dellapenta is charged with using the Internet to solicit the rape of a woman who had rejected his advances. Dellapenta terrorized a North Hollywood woman by placing ads in her name that claimed she had rape fantasies and provided her address and instructions for disarming her security system. At least six men saw the Internet ads and came to the woman’s home. Many more called with obscene messages.

On January 1, 1999, California had become the first state to ban cyberstalking, or stalking that involves electronic communications. Dellapenta went afoul of the new law by using the Internet to get back at the woman who had repeatedly rejected his romantic interest in her.

At first the woman had no idea why men were banging on her door in the middle of the night saying that they were there to rape her. When she finally learned about the Internet ads, she placed notes on her door explaining that the ads were false. However, Dellapenta then placed new ads saying that the notes were part of the fantasy. He was caught when the victim’s father pretended to respond to the ads and traced their origin.

In April, Dellapenta pleaded guilty to one count of stalking and three counts of solicitation of sexual assault and received a six-year prison sentence.

Production begins on “Toy Story”

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/production-begins-on-toy-story

On January 19, 1993, production begins on Toy Story, the first full-length feature film created by the pioneering Pixar Animation Studios. Originally a branch of the filmmaker George Lucas’s visual effects company, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), Pixar first put itself on the map with special effects produced for films such as Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), which featured the first fully three-dimensional digital or computer-generated image (CGI). In 1986, Pixar became an independent company after it was purchased by Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computer.

The fledgling company’s inaugural product was the Pixar Image Computer, which the former Disney animator John Lasseter soon used to produce an animated short film, Luxo Jr. The film won Best Animated Short at the 1986 Academy Awards, raising Pixar’s profile considerably. Lasseter won another Oscar in 1989 for Tin Toy, an animated short featuring a mechanical drummer named Tinny maneuvering around in a baby’s playroom. (Tinny later became the basis for Buzz Lightyear, the spaceman toy who was one of Toy Story’s main characters.)

In 1991, based on the success of Pixar’s short films, the company signed a $26 million deal with the Walt Disney Company to develop, produce and distribute up to three animated feature films. The Little Mermaid (1989) had become Disney’s most successful film to date, and the company was ready to take more chances on innovative animation techniques. Approached by Lasseter about a possible Christmas program, Disney’s chief of film production, Jeffrey Katzenberg, instead responded with the three-picture deal.

Toy Story was the first Pixar-Disney collaboration, and the first feature-length animated film that was completely computer generated. Its plot revolved around the rivalry between the cowboy Woody, previously the favorite toy of a little boy named Andy, and Buzz Lightyear, a shiny new astronaut toy that Andy receives for a birthday present. Multiple Oscar-winner Tom Hanks lent his famous voice to Woody, while Tim Allen of TV’s Home Improvement was Buzz. Though Pixar’s long development process included drawings, paintings, sculptures and photographs, the final work for the film was all done on computers. The sophisticated animation created a vivid three-dimensional world full of color and movement, where toys–including such childhood classics as toy soldiers, Mr. Potato Head and Etch-a-Sketch–come to life.

Released in November 1995, Toy Story received universally positive reviews, and would eventually gross more than $192 million at the domestic box office and $358 million worldwide. Lasseter received a special Academy Award for leading the Pixar team, and the movie became the first animated feature ever to score an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. There have been three sequels, all of them critically-acclaimed: Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010) and Toy Story 4 (2019).