All posts by sleuthboss

Men fly over Paris

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/men-fly-over-paris

French physician Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier and François Laurent, the marquis d’ Arlandes, make the first untethered hot-air balloon flight, flying 5.5 miles over Paris in about 25 minutes. Their cloth balloon was crafted by French papermaking brothers Jacques-Étienne and Joseph-Michel Montgolfier, inventors of the world’s first successful hot-air balloons.

For time immemorial, humanity has dreamed of flight. Greek mythology tells of Daedalus, who made wings of wax, and Leonardo da Vinci drew designs of flying machines and envisioned the concept of a helicopter in the 15th century. It was not until the 1780s, however, that human flight became a reality.

The first successful flying device may not have been a Montgolfier balloon but an “ornithopter”–a glider-like aircraft with flapping wings. According to a hazy record, the German architect Karl Friedrich Meerwein succeeded in lifting off the ground in an ornithopter in 1781. Whatever the veracity of this record, Meerwein’s flying machine never became a viable means of flight, and it was the Montgolfier brothers who first took men into the sky.

Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier ran a prosperous paper business in the town of Vidalon in southern France. Their success allowed them to finance their interest in scientific experimentation. In 1782, they discovered that combustible materials burned under a lightweight paper or fabric bag would cause the bag to rise into the air. From this phenomenon, they deduced that smoke causes balloons to rise. Actually, it is hot air that causes balloons to rise, but their error did not interfere with their subsequent achievements.

On June 4, 1783, the brothers gave the first public demonstration of their discovery, in Annonay. An unmanned balloon heated by burning straw and wool rose 3,000 feet into the air before settling to the ground nearly two miles away. In their test of a hot-air balloon, the Montgolfiers were preceded by Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão, a Brazilian priest who launched a small hot-air balloon in the palace of the king of Portugal in 1709. The Montgolfiers were unaware of Lourenço’s work, however, and quickly surpassed it.

On September 19, the Montgolfiers sent a sheep, a rooster, and a duck aloft in one of their balloons in a prelude to the first manned flight. The balloon, painted azure blue and decorated with golden fleurs-de-lis, lifted up from the courtyard of the palace of Versailles in the presence of King Louis XVI. The barnyard animals stayed afloat for eight minutes and landed safely two miles away. On October 15, Jean-François Pilátre de Rozier made a tethered test flight of a Montgolfier balloon, briefly rising into the air before returning to earth.

The first untethered hot-air balloon flight occurred before a large, expectant crowd in Paris on November 21. Pilátre and d’Arlandes, an aristocrat, rose up from the grounds of royal Cháteau La Muette in the Bois de Boulogne and flew approximately five miles. Humanity had at last conquered the sky.

The Montgolfier brothers were honored by the French Acadámie des Sciences for their achievement. They later published books on aeronautics and pursued important work in other scientific fields.

Ella Fitzgerald wins Amateur Night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ella-fitzgerald-wins-amateur-night-at-harlems-apollo-theater

On the evening of November 21, 1934, a young and gangly would-be dancer took to the stage of Harlem’s Apollo Theater to participate in a harrowing tradition known as Amateur Night. Finding herself onstage as a result of pure chance after her name was drawn out of a hat, the aspiring dancer spontaneously decided to turn singer instead—a change of heart that would prove momentous not only for herself personally, but also for the future course of American popular music. The performer in question was a teenaged Ella Fitzgerald, whose decision to sing rather than dance on this day in 1934 set her on a course toward becoming a musical legend. It also led her to victory at Amateur Night at the Apollo, a weekly event that was then just a little more than a year old but still thrives today.

Born in 1917 in New York City and orphaned at the age of 15, Ella Fitzgerald was a high-school dropout and a ward of New York State when she made her way to the Apollo that autumn night in 1934 with two of her girlfriends. “It was a bet,” she later recalled. “We just put our names in….We never thought we’d get the call.” But Ella did get the call, and as it happened, she came to the stage immediately after a talented and popular local dance duo. Afraid that she couldn’t measure up to the dancing talents of the preceding act, Ella was petrified. “I looked and I saw all those people, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do out here?’” she told National Public Radio decades later. “Everybody started laughing and said, ‘What is she gonna do?’ And I couldn’t think of nothing else, so I tried to sing ‘The Object of My Affection.’”

By her own admission, Fitzgerald was blatantly imitating the singer who popularized that song, Connie Boswell of the Boswell Sisters, and the first few notes were a disaster. Rushing onstage to protect her from the jeers of the notoriously tough Apollo Theater crowd, however, was the famous Amateur Night master of ceremonies, Ralph Cooper, who helped Ella gather her wits and try again. On her second attempt, she brought down the house.

Within the year, Ella Fitzgerald had been discovered by Chick Webb, to whose band she was legally paroled by the State of New York while still shy of her 18th birthday. It was with Webb’s band that she scored her career-making hit, “A-Tisket A-Tasket” in 1938, but it was as a solo performer that she would become a jazz legend in the late 1940s and early 1950s as a revolutionary innovator in vocal jazz.

Edison’s first great invention

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/edisons-first-great-invention

The American inventor announces his invention of the phonograph, a way to record and play back sound.

Edison stumbled on one of his great inventions–the phonograph–while working on a way to record telephone communication at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. His work led him to experiment with a stylus on a tinfoil cylinder, which, to his surprise, played back the short song he had recorded, “MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB”. Public demonstrations of the phonograph made the Yankee inventor world famous, and he was dubbed the “Wizard of Menlo Park.”

Edison set aside this invention in 1878 to work on the incandescent light bulb, and other inventors moved forward to improve on the phonograph. In 1887, Edison resumed work on the device, using the wax-cylinder technique developed by Charles Tainter. Although initially used as a dictating machine, the phonograph proved to be a popular tool for entertainment, and in 1906 Edison unveiled a series of musical and theatrical selections to the public through his National Phonograph Company. Continuing to improve on models and cylinders over the years, the Edison Disc Phonograph debuted in 1912 with the aim of competing in the popular record market. Edison’s discs offered superior sound quality but were not compatible with other popular disc players.

During the 1920s, the early record business suffered with the growth of radio, and in 1929 recording production at Edison ceased forever. Edison, who acquired an astounding 1,093 patents in his 84 years, died in 1931.

Nuremberg trials begin

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nuremberg-trials-begin

Twenty-four high-ranking Nazis go on trial in Nuremberg, Germany, for atrocities committed during World War II.

The Nuremberg Trials were conducted by an international tribunal made up of representatives from the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Great Britain. It was the first trial of its kind in history, and the defendants faced charges ranging from crimes against peace, to crimes of war, to crimes against humanity. Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence, the British member, presided over the proceedings, which lasted 10 months and consisted of 216 court sessions.

On October 1, 1946, 12 architects of Nazi policy were sentenced to death. Seven others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life, and three were acquitted. Of the original 24 defendants, one, Robert Ley, committed suicide while in prison, and another, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, was deemed mentally and physically incompetent to stand trial. Among those condemned to death by hanging were Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi minister of foreign affairs; Hermann Goering, leader of the Gestapo and the Luftwaffe; Alfred Jodl, head of the German armed forces staff; and Wilhelm Frick, minister of the interior.

On October 16, 10 of the architects of Nazi policy were hanged. Goering, who at sentencing was called the “leading war aggressor and creator of the oppressive program against the Jews,” committed suicide by poison on the eve of his scheduled execution. Nazi Party leader Martin Bormann was condemned to death in absentia (but is now believed to have died in May 1945). Trials of lesser German and Axis war criminals continued in Germany into the 1950s and resulted in the conviction of 5,025 other defendants and the execution of 806.

American vessel sunk by sperm whale

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/american-vessel-sunk-by-sperm-whale

The American whaler Essex, which hailed from Nantucket, Massachusetts, is attacked by an 80-ton sperm whale 2,000 miles from the western coast of South America.

The 238-ton Essex was in pursuit of sperm whales, specifically the precious oil and bone that could be derived from them, when an enraged bull whale rammed the ship twice and capsized the vessel. The 20 crew members escaped in three open boats, but only five of the men survived the harrowing 83-day journey to the coastal waters of South America, where they were picked up by other ships. Most of the crew resorted to cannibalism during the long journey, and at one point men on one of the long boats drew straws to determine which of the men would be shot in order to provide sustenance for the others. Three other men who had been left on a desolate Pacific island were saved later.

The first capture of a sperm whale by an American vessel was in 1711, marking the birth of an important American industry that commanded a fleet of more than 700 ships by the mid 18th century. Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick (1851) was inspired in part by the story of the Essex.

Princess Elizabeth marries Philip Mountbatten

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/princess-elizabeth-marries-philip-mountbatten

In a lavish wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London, Princess Elizabeth marries her distant cousin, Philip Mountbatten, a dashing former prince of Greece and Denmark who renounced his titles in order to marry the English princess.

Princess Elizabeth, heir to the British throne, was 21 years old. Philip Mountbatten, age 26, had fought as a British naval officer during World War II and was made the duke of Edinburgh on the eve of his wedding to Elizabeth. The celebrations surrounding the wedding of the popular princess lifted the spirits of the people of Britain, who were enduring economic difficulties in the aftermath of World War II.

On February 6, 1952, the death of King George VI sent Elizabeth to the throne, and Philip ended his naval career to concentrate on his new duties as consort of the British monarch. Elizabeth and Philip eventually had four children–Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward.

American consul in China held “hostage” by communists

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/american-consul-in-china-held-hostage-by-communists

In what begins as a fairly minor incident, the American consul and his staff in Mukden, China, are made virtual hostages by communist forces in China. The crisis did not end until a year later, by which time U.S. relations with the new communist government in China had been seriously damaged.Mukden was one of the first major trade centers in China to be occupied by Mao’s communist forces in October 1948 during the revolution against the Nationalist Chinese government. In November, American Consul Angus Ward refused to surrender the consulate’s radio transmitter to the communists. In response, armed troops surrounded the consulate, trapping Ward and 21 staff members. The Chinese cut off all communication, as well as water and electricity. For months, almost nothing was heard from Ward and the other Americans.The U.S. response to the situation was to first order the consulate closed and call for the withdrawal of Ward and his staff. However, Ward was prevented from doing so after the Chinese communists, in June 1949, charged the consulate with being a headquarters for spies. With the situation worsening, the United States tried to exert diplomatic pressure by calling upon its allies to withhold recognition of the new communist Chinese government. Chinese forces thereupon arrested Ward, charging him and some of his staff with inciting a riot outside the consulate in October 1949. President Harry Truman was incensed at this action and met with his military advisors to discuss the feasibility of military action. Secretary of State Dean Acheson bluntly and angrily informed the new People’s Republic of China that no U.S. recognition would ever be forthcoming until the Americans at Mukden were released. On November 24, 1949, Ward and his staff were allowed to leave the consulate. Ward and four other Americans had actually been found guilty of the inciting-to-riot charge and were ordered deported. Together with the other Americans, they left China in December. The Chinese actions, which are still difficult to explain or understand, no doubt damaged any possibilities that might have existed for U.S. recognition of the People’s Republic of China. Truman, already under heavy attacks at home for not “saving” the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, could ill-afford to show weakness in dealing with the Chinese communists, particularly after the arrest of Ward and the other Americans so angered the American public.

Chaplain Charles Watters receives Medal of Honor

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/chaplain-charles-watters-receives-medal-of-honor

For action this date, Chaplain (Major) Charles Watters of the 173rd Airborne Brigade is awarded the Medal of Honor. Chaplain Watters was serving with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry when it conducted an attack against North Vietnamese forces entrenched on Hill 875 during the Battle of Dak To. The Catholic priest from New Jersey moved among the paratroopers during the intense fighting, giving encouragement and first aid to the wounded. At least six times he left the defensive perimeter with total disregard regard for his own personal safety to retrieve casualties and take them for medical attention. Once he was satisfied that all of the wounded were inside the perimeter, he busied himself helping the medics, applying bandages, and providing spiritual strength and support. According to reports filed by survivors of the battle, Father Watters was on his knees giving last rites to a dying soldier when an American bomber accidentally dropped a 500-pound bomb onto the group of paratroopers. Father Watters was killed instantly. He was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor on November 4, 1969, in a ceremony at the White House.

Also on this date: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passes a resolution to curb the commitment of U.S. armed forces and a resolution urging the President Johnson to take the initiative to have the Vietnamese conflict brought before the United Nations Security Council.

Pele scores 1,000th goal

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pele-scores-1000th-goal

Brazilian soccer great Pele scores his 1,000th professional goal in a game, against Vasco da Gama in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium. It was a major milestone in an illustrious career that included three World Cup championships.

Pele, considered one of the greatest soccer players ever to take the field, was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in Tres Coracos, Brazil, in 1940. He acquired the nickname Pele during his childhood though the name has no meaning in his native Portuguese. When he was a teenager, he played for a minor league soccer club in Bauru in Sao Paulo state and in 1956 joined the major league Santos Football Club in the city of Sao Paulo, playing inside left forward. Two years later, he led the Brazilian national team to victory in the World Cup. Pele, who was only 17 years old, scored two goals to defeat Sweden in the final.

Pele was blessed with speed, balance, control, power, and an uncanny ability to anticipate the movements of his opponents and teammates. Although just five feet eight inches tall, he was a giant on the field, leading Santos to three national club championships, two South American championships, and the world club title in 1963. Under Pele’s leadership, Brazil won the World Cup in 1958, 1962, and 1970. In 1970, Brazil was granted permanent possession of the World Cup’s Jules Rimet Trophy as a tribute to its dominance. On November 19, 1969, Pele scored his 1,000th goal on a penalty kick against Vasco da Gama. Eighty thousand adoring fans in Maracana stadium cheered him wildly, even though Santos was the opposing team.

Pele announced his retirement in 1974 but in 1975 accepted a $7 million contract to play with the New York Cosmos. He led the Cosmos to a league championship in 1977 and did much to promote soccer in the United States. On October 1, 1977, in Giants Stadium, he played his last professional game in a Cosmos match against his old team Santos.

During his long career, Pele scored 1,282 goals in 1,363 games. In 1978, Pele was given the International Peace Award and in 1993 he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Since retiring, he has acted as an international ambassador for his sport and has worked with the United Nations and UNICEF to promote peace and international reconciliation through friendly athletic competition.

Sadat visits Israel

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sadat-visits-israel

In an unprecedented move for an Arab leader, Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat travels to Jerusalem to seek a permanent peace settlement with Israel after decades of conflict. Sadat’s visit, in which he met with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and spoke before the Knesset (Parliament), was met with outrage in most of the Arab world.

Despite criticism from Egypt’s regional allies, Sadat continued to pursue peace with Begin, and in 1978 the two leaders met again in the United States, where they negotiated a historic agreement with President Jimmy Carter at Camp David, Maryland. The Camp David Accords, signed in September 1978, laid the groundwork for a permanent peace agreement between Egypt and Israel after three decades of hostilities. The final peace agreement–the first between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors–was signed in March 1979. The treaty ended the state of war between the two countries and provided for the establishment of full diplomatic and commercial relations.

Sadat and Begin were jointly awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. However, Sadat’s peace efforts were not so highly acclaimed in the Arab world, and he was assassinated on October 6, 1981, by Muslim extremists in Cairo. Despite Sadat’s death, the peace process continued under Egypt’s new president, Hosni Mubarak. In 1982, Israel fulfilled the 1979 peace treaty by returning the last segment of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Egyptian-Israeli peace continues today.