Friday, February 29, 2008

John Jacob Astor

When 20-year old John Jacob Astor arrived in New York City from Germany in 1784, he was almost penniless. But by the time of his death in 1848, his ventures in fur trading and real-estate development had made him the richest man in America.

Astor became his career by trading German toys for furs in upstate New York. He soon made enough money to set up a string of trading posts in the Great Lake region. In 1808, he organized the American Fur Company, which came to control most of the fur trade in the United States as the frontier moved west. Astor’s fur-trading post at Astoria, Oregon, was the first permanent American settlement in the Pacific Northwest. Astor also made a fortune during the War of 1812, buying United States government bonds at low cost and reselling them at a profit.

Astor’s greatest profits, however, came from real-estate investments. When he retired from the fur trade in 1834, he devoted his full time to this endeavor. He made so much money---he left about $20 million when he died---that his enemies called him a “self-invented money-making machine.” Astor loved making money and acquiring property. “Could I begin life again,” he said, “I would buy every foot of land on Manhattan Island.” Indeed, his heirs tried to do just that. They acquired so much real estate that they became known as “the landlords of New York.”

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Every year, more than two million people take a two-mile walk into history along Boston’s Freedom Trail. Among the highlights are the cobblestoned site where British troops fired on colonists in the Boston Massacre of 1770, the meetinghouse where the Boston Tea Party was planned, and the home of Paul Revere.

Because it played such a prominent role in the country’s early history, Boston is known as “the Cradle of Liberty.” It has also been called “the hub of the universe,” because of its importance in the cultural, intellectual, and commerical growth of the United States.

Founded in 1630 by Puritans who fled England in search of religious freedom, Boston became a thriving port and a center for writers, educators, and social reformers. Beginning in the 1840s new immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and other countries brought the city the vitality that helped transform it into an industrial metropolis.

Boston is the largest city in New England. It is famous for its prestigious schools, libraries, and hospitals; its magnificent museums and musical organizations; and its beloved sports teams, including the Red Sox and the Celtics. There are more than 65 colleges and universities in the Boston area, serving 250,000 students. Each April, some 6,000 runners participate in the country’s oldest long-distance race, the Boston Marathon.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mount Rushmore

Located in the Black Hills in southwestern South Dakota, Mount Rushmore National Memorial celebrates America with images of four of its great presidents. Carved from the granite summit of Mount Rushmore are heads, each about 60 feet high, of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These presidents were chosen to represent, in order, the nation’s founding, philosophy, expansion, and unity.

The U.S. Congress authorized American sculptor Gutzon Borglum to undertake the Mount Rushmore project. Borglum (1871-1941) had executed other noteworthy commissions, but Mount Rushmore was his crowning achievement. Work began in August, 1927 and took 14 years to complete. Of this time, only six and one-half years were spent on actual carving; the rest of the time was spent waiting for good weather or looking for funding, which took the federal government eventually provided.

The work was precarious, much of it done at the end of a rope harness. Borglum was assisted by teams of workmen and---towards the end of the project---by his son Lincoln. Using pneumatic drills and explosives, they cut, blasted, and chiseled away some 450,000 tons of rock to complete the four huge heads.

The Mount Rushmore Memorial carvings are huge compared to other well-known monuments. Each head is twice as high as the famous Sphinx statue at Giza, Egypt.

(Famous Places, Mount Rushmore, 1941, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Million Man March

They came to Washington D.C. from all over the United States---hundreds of thousands of African-American men eager to send an important message. They came to accept responsibility for themselves and their families. And they pledged to work toward improving their lives and their communities.

The marchers gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol on the morning of October 16, 1995. For 12 hours, the men listened to speakers such as poet Maya Angelou and civil-rights activist Jesse Jackson. The rally ended with a long speech by the march’s organizer, Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan urged the men to accept traditional values, join religious groups, and register to vote.

The message of the march wasn’t controversial---but Farrakhan was. Some African-American groups didn’t join the march because it was organized by Farrakhan. In the past, the influential leader had upset many people with anti-Semitic and anti-white comments and other opinions that seemed to fan racial and political tensions. Also, some African-Americans were angry with Farrakhan became women weren’t invited to participate in the march. Nevertheless, most people believe the “Million Man March” succeeeded in its goal of uniting and inspiring African-American men.

Government officials estimated that 400,000 men participated in the march. But people still call the event the Million Man March.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson called her poetry “my letter to the world.” But only a handful of her poems were published during her lifetime. Not until after her death did the world take notice of the odd, brilliant woman who was one of America’s greatest poets.

Dickinson was born and lived her entire life in her father’s red brick house in Amherst, Massachusetts. She had a normal childhood, but as an adult she led a largely solitary life. Because Emily Dickinson was rarely seen around Amherst after she reached adulthood, the townspeople called her “The Myth.” She never married. She rarely left her home and she spent many hours alone, writing poetry. Her poems expressed her deepest emotions. Many of them were about nature, death, and God.

In all, Dickinson wrote 1,775 poems. But she never tried to have them published. A few were submitted to newspapers by admirers without her consent.

She hid most of her poems in a bureau in her bedroom. After her death in 1886, her sister and a friend arranged for a volume of her poems to be published. One reviewer attacked them as “barbaric,” because they did not have simple positive messages or tradional forms. But the book became a great success with the American public, which recognized the genius of Emily Dickinson’s “letter to the world.”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The League of Women Voters

“We are not feminists primarily, we are citizens,” wrote an early leader of the League of Women Voters. Her statement reflects the organization’s goal of helping all Americans become knowledgeable participants in government.

An outgrowth of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, the League was founded in Chicago in 1920. After a long battle, women had been given the right to vote by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The League was founded to educate women in the use of that newly won right. At first, members were divided on the role of women in politics. Some felt that they should work through exisiting political parties. Others argued that women should have their own party. Still others believed that women should remain above partisan politics. Finally, members agreed that the League would be nonpartisan, while supporting social and political reform.

Today, the League has more than 1,200 local and state chapters. It concentrates on educating the American public on important local, state, and national issues. It distributes reliable information on candidates and issues, runs voter registration drives, and sponsors political debates. The League remains nonpartisan, although it takes stands on important issues after conducting studies and reaching concensus among its members.

Membership in the League of Women Voters was opened to men in 1974.

The political cartoon pictured with this post is interesting. Click on it to see a larger view. The topic involves passage of the 19th amendment.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fisk Jubilee Singers

“The magic of their song kept thrilling hearts,” the African-American leader W.E.B. Du Bois said of the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University.

The “Jubilees” were the first choral group to perform slave spirituals such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” for white audiences. Their thrilling concerts made them world famous in the 1870s.

The first “Jubilees” were nine students at Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee. Fisk had been founded in 1866 to educate former slaves, and in 1871, George L. White, Fisk’s treasurer, organized the choral group. The Jubilees’ concerts were so popular in Nashville that White thought they might help the school with the financial troubles that plagued its early years. He took the Jubilees on a national tour, which was a great success. Mark Twain, the famous author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, said, “I think that in the Jubliees and their songs America has produced most perfect flower of the ages.” The chorus toured American and Europe for several years and raised $150,000, an enormous sum in those days.

England’s Queen Victoria was so delighted by the Jubilee Singers that she commissioned a painting of the choral group.

The Fisk Jubliee Singers still rank among the nation’s top choral groups. The university invites all students to audition for the group. But it cautions that “only the finest voices on campus are chosen.”

You can learn more here.

Plimouth Plantation

Simple wooden houses line the narrow, unpaved streets. Men in knee britches and women in long skirts tend gardens, spin yarn, and do other chores. They smile at visitors and gladly stop to explain their work. This is Plimoth Plantation, a recreation of one of America’s first English settlements.

New Plymouth was founded in 1620 by 102 English colonists, now known as the Pilgrims. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a small ship called the Mayflower to find religious freedom. Today, visitors to Plimoth Plantation can see how the Pilgrims lived. Actors in seventeenth-century costumes reenact the settlers’ daily activities. They use replicas of Pilgrim tools and housewares, and show visitors through homes and storehousess that are duplicates of the Pilgrims’ original structures.

Just outside the main plantation is Hobbacock’s Homesite, a model of a Wampanoag home of the 1600s. The Wampanoags were Native Americans who helped the Pilgrims through their first years. Nearby, visitors can see the Mayflower II, a replilca of the ship that brought the courageous colonists to the New World.

Archaeologists digging at Plimoth Plantation have found more than 350,000 Pilgrim artifacts. These objects have served as models for the creation of tools and housewares used at Plimoth Plantation today.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Clipper Ships

“Never, in these United States,” wrote historian Samuel Elliot Morison, “has the brain of man conceived, or the hand of man fashioned, so perfect a things as the clipper ship.”

The word “clip,” which meant simply “to cut,” later came to mean “to move quickly.” So a clipper ship was a fast-sailing one.

Clipper ships were the fastet and most beautiful sailing ships ever built. Between 1845 and 1849, American shipyards produced nearly 500 of them. The speediest were the giant Yankee clippers. With their masses of sail, these long, slender ships could travel up to 400 nautical miles a day.

Clippers were first built to carry goods to and from China. After the discovery of gold in California in 1848, they carried prospectors and supplies from the East Coast to the gold fields. Earlier, this 15,000-mile trip around the southern tip of South America took five months. But by the early 1850’s, speedy clippers such as the Flying Cloud had cut the time to three months.

Clippers set other records, too. In 1849, the Sea Witch sailed from Hong Kong to New York in 74 days. In 1852, the Challenger raced from Japan to California in 18 days. And in 1860, the Andrew Jackson sailed from New York to Liverpool, England, in 15 days. But by then steamships, which did not depend on the wind, were replacing the clippers. The era of these “greyhounds of the sea” was coming to a close.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Duchess of Windsor

On December 11, 1936, the people of Great Britain were stunned by an announcement from their popular, 42-year-old king, Edward VIII. He was giving up his throne because he could not live without “the woman I love.”

Edward was referring to Wallis Warfield Simpson, an American who had moved to England with her second husband. There, in 1930, she met Edward, who was then the Prince of Wales. They fell in love, and she obtained a divorce. When Edward’s father, King George V, died in January, 1936, Edward became king. In Great Britain, the monarch is also the head of the Church of England, which at the time didn’t sanction divorce. There was no way for ward to remain king and marry Mrs. Simpson. So he decided to abdicate (relinquish the throne voluntarily).

Given the title Duke of Windsor by his successor, his brother King George VI, Edward married Mrs. Simpson in 1937. Barred from living in England, they resided in France. The duchess became known as an elegant hostess and one of the world’s best-dressed women. The couple traveled extensively attending social events around the world.

The duke died in 1972, and the duchess in 1986. Although they were sometimes criticized for their lavish lifestyle, their romance is regarded as one of history’s greatest love stories.

In February, 1998, more than 40,000 of the Windsor’s belongings were sold at auction by Sotheby’s.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Phonograph

President Rutherford B. Hayes couldn’t believe his ears---a box was politely asking about his health! Hayes had invited Thomas A. Edison, the famous inventor from New Jersey, to the White House to demonstrate his latest invention. The device was called a phonograph and it could both record and replay sound. It amazed Americans and many people thought it was a trick.

But Eidson’s phonograph was no trick. The “record” was a sheet of tinfoil wrapped around a metal cylinder. A disc with a needle in it was set vibrating by the sound of the human voices, causing the needle to make grooves of varying depths in the tinfoil as the cylinder rotated. A second disc-and-needle unit was employed to play back the sound; as the second needle traveled over the same grooves, its disc vibrated, recreating the sound.

Eidson charged admission to people who wanted to hear his early phonographs play”Yankee Doodle”, and sold several hundred tinfoil phonographs. But he considered them oddities, and concentrated on other projects. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, improved on Edison’s idea, introducing wax-covered cylinders. Recorded disks, or “records,” were the idea of German inventor Emile Berliner. Millions of records could be stamped from a single master disk. They were first marketed in the United States in 1893. And Americans were soon cranking up phonographs to listen to their favorite singers and dance to the newest tune.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Landing at Inchon

In August, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The United States and other nations under United Nations authority sent troops to help the South. But North Koreans quickly overran the Korean Peninsula. They pushed the U.N. forces back to Pusan, in the southeast corner of the country.

Commanding U.S. and U.N. forces, General Douglas MacArthur planned a surprise counterattack at Inchon in the northwest. His goal was to capture Seoul, the South Korean capital, and cut off North Korean forces to the south.

Early on September 15, ships carrying U.N. forces sailed into Inchon’s inner harbor. Backed by shelling and bombing from sea and air, the troops struggled through heavy seas and rain to land at two points. They had to scale high natural seawalls to battle the North Korean forces holding the port city. In a day of bitter fighting, they captured Inchon and a five-mile strip around it. Ten days later they took Seoul, outflanking the enemy as planned. General MacArthur’s bold gamble had turned the tide of the Korean War.

The Inchon Landing required precise timing because at low tide the harbor’s water drops so low that boats are stranded on the mud. Troops could land only during two-hour periods of high tide.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Samuel Gompers

Long hours, low pay, and unsafe working conditions were the rule for most American workers in the late 1800s. Samuel Gompers helped change that by bringing thousands of workers together in unions to bargain for better treatment from employers.

Born in England, Gompers came to the United States with his family in 1863. He learned his father’s cigarmaking trade and joined the Cigarmakers’ Union. He became president of that union in 1874. In those days, unions were small and served only skilled workers in specific trades. Gompers realized that unions would be stronger if they banded together. In 1881, he helped found a federation of labor unions that became the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886.

Gompers was president of the AFL until his death. Under his presidency, membership grew to four million. Gompers pressed for higher wages, fewer hours, and better working conditions. He believed that these goals should be won by collective bargaining, not strikes. Unlike some labor leaders, he was not very interested in political change. His purpose was to make life better for American workers. While Gompers led the AFL, average wages increased 205 percent and the average workday was shortened to nine hours. Because of his imporant role in their struggle, he is known as the “father of the modern labor movement.”

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Moon Landing

As millions watched on television, one of the most dramatic moments in human history took place some 235,000 miles away. The hatch of the Apollo 11 lunar module opened. Commander Neil A. Armstrong dressed in a bulky space suit, slowly climbed down a ladder. Finally, his boot touched the surface of the moon. “That’s one small step for man,” he said, “one giant leap for mankind.”

Four days earlier, on July 16, 1969, a giant Saturn V rocket, as tall as a 28-story building, had been launched from Cape Kennedy in Florida. Atop the rocket was the Apollo 11 spacecraft carrying three American astronauts: Neil Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins. The three-stage rocket provided the thrust to propel the spacecraft to the moon. Apollo 11 then took over, using its own engine to go into orbit around the moon.

Then on July 20, the Apollo 11’s spiderlegged lunar module seperated from the rest of the spacecraft and carried Armstrong and Aldrin to a flat area on the moon’s surface. The landing was smooth. For the first time humans had landed on the moon. A dream as old as humanity had been achieved.

Between 1969 and 1972, the U.S. launched six successful manned missions to the moon. A total of 12 astronauts walked on the lunar surface.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, a brilliant lawyer, and the Vice President of the U.S. But he is remembered as the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel and as an accused traitor.

Burr served under George Washington in the Continental Army and became a successful lawyer in New York City. He also became an influential figure in national politics. Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington, was Burr’s main political rival. In the election of 1800, Burr and Thomas Jefferson received the same number of electoral votes for President. Hamilton supported Jefferson, and Burr was named Vice President instead.

Four years later, Burr accused Hamilton of insulting him and challenged him to a duel. And on July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, New Jersey, Burr fatally wounded Hamilton. In the early 1800s, duelists were expected to try to wound, not kill their foes.

The next year, Burr launched the scheme that led to his downfall. He was accused of trying to set up an independent empire in the Southwest, with himself as the ruler. He was arrested and tried for treason. Although he was acquitted because of lack of evidence, he was viewed as a traitor by the public. Burr lived in Europe for several years and then returned to New York, where he practiced law, forgotten by the nation he had once hoped to lead.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Oklahoma City Bombing

It was shortly after 9:00 a.m. on April 19, 1995. Workers had just reached their offices in the Afred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Some had dropped off their children in the second-floor day-care center. Suddenly, a deafening blast shattered the morning calm. Inside a rental truck parked in front of the building, a powerful bomb had exploded. In a matter of seconds, the building was ripped apart.

As Americans watched their televisions in horror, rescue workers combed the rubble. Their efforts saved hundreds of injured survivior but eventually uncovered 168 bodies, including those of 19 children. Americans asked who could have committed this vile act of terrorism---the worst ever on U.S. soil. Many suspected foreign terrorists; but the FBI soon had American suspects in custody.

Timothy McVeigh, a 27-year-old army veteran, was the prime suspect. He and a friend, Terry Nichols were linked to the rental truck and the explosives. Both were known to distrust the federal government. They were particularly angry about the 1993 government raid on a cult group in Waco, Texas, that claimed 80 lives. The two men plead not guilty to charges of conspiracy and murder. McVeigh was eventually put to death and as of this date Nichols is still in prison.

Experts determined that the bomb that destroyed the federal office building was made from ammonium-nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil.

The Murder of Selena

She was only 23, and on the verge of superstardom. But in March, 1995, the Mexican-American singing star known as Selena was murdered by the former president of her fan club. Thousands of shocked fans mourned the death of the talented young performer who had popularized Tejano music, a fast-paced blend of Mexican folk music and American pop.

Selena, whose full name was Selena Quintanilla Perez, was by far the biggest Tejano star. Her Selena Live recording won a 1994 Grammy Award as best Mexican-American albulm. And at the beginning of 1995, she seemed close to achieving her goal of reaching a wider audience. She had recorded her first English-language albulm just before her death.

Yolanda Saldivar, the woman who killed Selena, had managed a clothing boutique owned by Selena’s family, but she was fired after being suspected of taking money from the store. On March 31, 1995, she arranged to meet Selena at a motel in Corpus Christi, Texas. When the singer arrived, Saldivar pulled out a gun and shot her. Saldivar claimed that the gun went off accidentally, but she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Selena’s album Dreaming of You was released after her death. It became the first albulm by a Latin artist to top the popular-music chart.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Emily Post's Etiquette

When Americans wanted to know the proper way to set a table, answer an invitation, or write a thank-you note, they turned to Emily Post. For 40 years, she was the country’s most famous expert on etiquette---the correct way to behave in social situations.

The daughter of a prominent Baltimore architect, Post politely refused when an editor asked her to write a book on etiquette. Etiquette, she said, was stuffy and not to be taken seriously. But after looking at a book from a rival publisher, she decided that she could do a better job. Her book first appeared in 1922 as Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home. Its sound advice made it a must for every household. For a later edition, the book’s title was changed to Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage. Some of Post’s 1922 rules were soon outdated such as “It is unheard of for a gentleman to ‘take’ a young girl alone to a dance or to dine or to parties.” But her books were frequently revised to cover modern situations. And Emily Post continued to dispense good advice through books, newspaper columns, and a radio program until her death in 1960.

Another piece of Post’s advice…..”Never try to make any two people like each other, “ Emily Post warned. “If they do, they do; if they don’t, they don’t, and that is all there is to it.”

The U.S. Withdraws From Vietnam

In March, 1973, the last U.S. troops left the war-ravaged nation of South Vietnam. American soldiers had been there since the early 1960s, helping the South Vietnamese government defend itself against Communist rebels and North Vietnamese forces. At the height of the war, in 1968, about 540,000 U.S. soldiers were fighting in Vietnam. But Americans at home disagreed bitterly about the U.S. role there. Some said that the U.S. should fight the spread of Communism. And others said that the U.S. had no right to interfere in a civil war so far from home.

A four-year U.S. withdrawal began in 1969. America gradually transferred responsibility for the fighting to South Vietnamese soldiers. The last American soldiers left after the U.S. and North Vienam signed peace accords in January, 1973. But fierce fighting between North and South continued.

North Vietnam launched its sucessful final attack on South Vietnam early in 1975. In Saigon, the capital, American citizens and some frightened South Vietnamese who supported the U.S. made their way to the American embassy. There they crammed into helicopters that flew them to safety. On April 30, Saigon fell to the Communist. And the long, tragic war in Vietnam was over.

More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed or listed as missing in Vietnam.

The O.J. Simpson Trial

On the morning of June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death outside her apartment in a Los Angeles suburb. Within days, police identified O.J. Simpson, Nicole’s former husband, as the main suspect. Simpson was one of the most familiar people in America, a former pro-football star who often appeared in television commericals and movies. When Simpson was charged with the murders, the stage was set for one of the most talked-about trials in history.

Los Angeles prosecutors believed they had a strong case against Simpson. They offered a scientific evidence that he had been at the murder scene. Witnesses also testified that he abused Nicole in the past. But Simpson’s defense team argued that the police were prejudiced against Simpson because he was African-American. His lawyers showed that at least one detective was racist and suggested that he may have planted false evidence. They also showed that police work on the case was often sloppy, and they claimed that the evidence could not be trusted. After long months of testimony, the case was given to the jury. In less than four hours, the 12-member jury brought back its verdict: “Not guilty.” Many believed that Simpson had committed the murderes. Others said that there were too many doubts about the case to convict him. The truth may never be known…

Simpson paid an estimated $10 million in legal fees to the lawyers who defended him during the trial.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hurricane Andrew

Every year between May and November, people in the eastern U.S. watch for hurricanes. These vast tropical storms in the Caribbean Sea travel northwest, striking at the Caribbean islands and sometimes on the mainland of North America. One of the most terrible of these storms was Hurricane Andrew, which struck in August of 1992.

Andrew first hit the islands of the Bahamas and then moved northwest toward Florida. Modern weather prediction gave people a day or two to prepare. But there was no way to prepare for a storm as large as Andrew. The center of the storm struck south of Miami on August 24. With wind gusts up to 165 miles an hour, Andrew leveled whole communities in a few hours. The winds uprooted trees, threw trucks on top of buildings, and reduced mobile homes to splinters. Driving rains flooded low-lying areas and swelled rivers to torrents. The storm lost force as it crossed Florida, but when it reached the Gulf of Mexico it regained strength. On the evening of August 25, it slammed into the coast of southwestern Louisiana, causing still more destruction.

Andrew killed 14 people and left 250,000 homeless. Damage was estimated at $30 billion, making it the most destructive storm in U.S. history.

Each year hurricanes are named in alphabetical order, alternating male and female names.

Andrew was the first hurricane of 1992.

Ocean Liners

You spend the day soaking up the sun, swimming in the pool, and playing shuffleboard. Then you join friends in the “Garden Lounge,” where tea is served among the towering palm trees and Greek statues. After changing into formal clothes in your stateroom, you make your way along the thickly carpeted corridors to the main dining room, where you have been invited to be a guest at the captain’s table. After a superb dinner, you dance to the romantic music of the ship’s orchestra.

No form of transportation has ever been more glamorous than the ocean liners that carried passengers between the U.S. and Europe. They heyday of those “floating palaces” was from 1900 to 1940. Aboard such ships as the Aquitania (which carried 4,000 passengers), the Normandie (pictured here), and the Queen Elizabeth, those who could afford the passage were treated like royalty. In 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, killing 1,500 people. But on most crossings, seasickness was the only peril. During World War II many of the huge liners were used as troop transports. After the war, new ships like the United States kept transatlantic service alive. But gradually jet aircraft, which were faster and cheaper, replaced the queens of the sea. Today, ocean liners are used mainly for pleasure cruises.

In 1952, the United States won an award for the fastest ocean crossing: 3 days, 10 hours, and 40 minutes from New York to England.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pearl Harbor!

On a peaceful Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and plunged an unsuspecting America into World War II. Today, thousands of tourists each year visit the U.S.S. Arizona National Memorial on the island of Oahu to pay tribute to the 2,403 Americans who died in the attack, 1,777 of them aboard the battleship U.S.S. Arizona.

The Japanese attacked Peal Harbor because it was the major base of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Bombers and torpedo planes flying form Japanese aircraft carriers struck at “Battleship Row,” where seven American battleships were anchored. All seven were sunk or damaged. One bomb struck the Arizona’s forward magazine, where ammunition were stored, and set off an enormous explosion that broke the battleship in two and sent her to the bottom of the harbor.

The white bridgelike structure of the National Memorial marks the spot where the Arizona went down. Below, the sunken battleship can be seen through the clear waters of the harbor. This memorial is a somber reminder of the day in 1941 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy.”

Of the seven battleships crippled in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, five were repaired. Only the Arizona and the Oklahoma could not be salvaged.

Follow this link to learn more about that fateful day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Oh Those Flappers!

Young and rebellious, they wanted to live a very different life from that of their mothers. They were known as “flappers,” and with their boyfriends---their “sheikhs”----they were the “flaming youth” of the period known as the Roaring Twenties.

Instead of ankle-length skirts, heavy black stockings, and long hair piled on top of their heads, the flappers wore short skirts, rolled-down silk stockings, and bobbed hair. They used lipstick and rouge and learned the latest dances of the “jazz age,” such as the Charleston and the Black Bottom. And they adopted many customs previously reserved for men, including smoking, drinking, and driving. “She will never knit you a necktie,” wrote one journalist about the flapper, “but she’ll drive you from the station in her little sports car.”

Of course, not all young American women were flappers. Many were too conservative or too timid for such open persuit of pleasure. But the flappers symbolized the restlessness of a changing America that was reexamining its social structure and its values. When the stock market crashed in 1929, bringing about the Great Depression, the era of the flapper ended as suddenly as American prosperity.

The word “flapper” originally meant a bird that was too young to fly. By the late 1800s, it was used to describe any young girl. By 1920, it came to mean a free-spirited young woman.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Merger of Disney and ABC

Suddenly, TV personalities such as Roseanne and Barbara Walters were members of the same family as America’s favorite cartoon characters. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. It happened in July, 1995, when the Walt Disney Company announced it would buy Capital Cities/ABC. This merger would make Disney the world’s largest entertainment company. And the price Disney would pay---$19 billion---would make the deal the second-biggest corporate takeover in U.S. history.

A change in federal rules in 1995 had opened the way for the two companies to merge. Before then, the government had permitted companies either to produce TV programs or to broadcast them---not both. The ideas to keep any one company or person from having too much control over TV and radio. Disney had been mainly a producer of movies and TV shows, though it also owned theme parks and a cable TV channel. Capital Cities had been mainly a broadcaster. It owned ABC, the TV network, as well as a number of TV and radio stations.

Some people were concerned that, with control of ABC, Disney would load the airwaves with its own shows. But to business leaders, the two companies seemed to be a perfect match. Investors agreed: Prices of both companies’stock shot way up with the news of the merger.

A day after the Disney-ABC deal, Westinghouse Electric Corporation announced that it would buy CBS TV network for $5.4 billion.

Admiral Hyman Rickover

On January 17, 1955, Admiral Hyman Rickover saw one of his life’s dreams become reality. On that memorable winter day, the U.S.S. Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine set out from Groton, Connecticut. It was the first ship of any kind to be powered by nuclear energy, and Rickover was responsible for this technological milestone.

Born in Russia, Rickover moved to Illinois with his family when he was a child. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, he earned an advanced degree in engineering at Columbia University. Rickover served on submarines in the 1930’s and steadily advanced through the navy ranks. When nuclear energy was harnessed during World War II, he was sure that it could be used to power submarines, and he persuaded the navy to put him in charge of building such a ship. The Nautilus was the successful result of his efforts.

Later, Rickover led the development of other nuclear-powered naval ships, including aircraft carriers. He also was instrumental in the building of the first large nuclear-power plant in the U.S. Some naval personnel disliked his abrupt manner and disdain for red tape. But all agreed that his drive, energy, and vision had served the navy---and the country---well.

Rickover served a record 63 years as a U.S. Navy officer before retiring in 1982.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The City of Philadelphia

Philadelphia is the birthplace of the United States. In 1776, representatives from the thirteen colonies met there to discuss the revolt against England. The delegates signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, which is still considered the country’s birthday. And eleven years later, the Constitutional Convention met in the same building, Independence Hall. Later in the 1790s, Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital.

Philadelphia was founded in 1681 by William Penn, the wealthy Englishman who gave his name to Pennsylvania. Penn had been persecuted in England for his Quaker religion, and he decreed that his new city would welcome people of many faiths. In this spirit he named the city Philadelphia, which in Greek means “city of brotherly love”. Located on the Delaware River, Philadelphia could be reached by oceangoing ships. It became a major trading center. In the 1700s, the city’s most remarkable resident was Benjamin Franklin, who gained fame as a publisher, writer, scientist, and statesman.

Modern Philadelphia is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. It is the home of the University of Pennsylvania, and is known for fine museums, music organizations, and sports teams. Millions of visitors come each year to recall Philadelphia’s place in the country’s history.

Uncle Sam Wants You!

A big hello from the annals of American History!

I WANT YOU to join me in a journey through various events of American History. We will meet important historical figures, review the various accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Americans, and look at American culture along the way.

I WANT YOU to visit often and tell your friends.

I WANT YOU to link to me as one of your American History references. I’ll be linking to blogs that link to me and will also begin to link to other great American History resources.

I WANT YOU to comment at will. Did a post inspire you to write about an issue? Did a post remind you of your own experiences with an event? Do you agree with the view of the event as I do? Did I leave something out? You can add details in the comments section!

I’m excited as we begin this journey together. America is a great nation and together we can present our history to the world.