November 10 Sesame Street debuts on this date in history

On this day in 1969, “Sesame Street,” a pioneering TV show that would teach generations of young children the alphabet and how to count, makes its broadcast debut. “Sesame Street,” with its memorable theme song (“Can you tell me how to get/How to get to Sesame Street”), went on to become the most widely viewed children’s program in the world. It has aired in more than 120 countries.

The show was the brainchild of Joan Ganz Cooney, a former documentary producer for public television. Cooney’s goal was to create programming for preschoolers that was both entertaining and educational. She also wanted to use TV as a way to help underprivileged 3- to 5- year-olds prepare for kindergarten. “Sesame Street” was set in a fictional New York neighborhood and included ethnically diverse characters and positive social messages.

Taking a cue from “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” a popular 1960s variety show, “Sesame Street” was built around short, often funny segments featuring puppets, animation and live actors. This format was hugely successful, although over the years some critics have blamed the show and its use of brief segments for shrinking children’s attention spans.

From the show’s inception, one of its most-loved aspects has been a family of puppets known as Muppets. Joan Ganz Cooney hired puppeteer Jim Henson (1936-1990) to create a cast of characters that became Sesame Street institutions, including Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Grover and Big Bird.

The subjects tackled by “Sesame Street” have evolved with the times. In 2002, the South African version of the program, “Takalani Sesame,” introduced a 5-year-old Muppet character named Kami who is HIV-positive, in order to help children living with the stigma of a disease that has reached epidemic proportions. In 2006, a new Muppet, Abby Cadabby, made her debut and was positioned as the show’s first female star character, in an effort to encourage diversity and provide a strong role model for girls.

Since its inception, over 74 million Americans have watched “Sesame Street.” Today, an estimated 8 million people tune in to the show each week in the U.S. alone.

From The History Channel

November 9 Nazis launch Kristallnacht on this date in history

On this day in 1938, in an event that would foreshadow the Holocaust, German Nazis launch a campaign of terror against Jewish people and their homes and businesses in Germany and Austria. The violence, which continued through November 10 and was later dubbed “Kristallnacht,” or “Night of Broken Glass,” after the countless smashed windows of Jewish-owned establishments, left approximately 100 Jews dead, 7,500 Jewish businesses damaged and hundreds of synagogues, homes, schools and graveyards vandalized. An estimated 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, many of whom were then sent to concentration camps for several months; they were released when they promised to leave Germany. Kristallnacht represented a dramatic escalation of the campaign started by Adolf Hitler in 1933 when he became chancellor to purge Germany of its Jewish population.

The Nazis used the murder of a low-level German diplomat in Paris by a 17-year-old Polish Jew as an excuse to carry out the Kristallnacht attacks. On November 7, 1938, Ernst vom Rath was shot outside the German embassy by Herschel Grynszpan, who wanted revenge for his parents’ sudden deportation from Germany to Poland, along with tens of thousands of other Polish Jews. Following vom Rath’s death, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels ordered German storm troopers to carry out violent riots disguised as “spontaneous demonstrations” against Jewish citizens. Local police and fire departments were told not to interfere. In the face of all the devastation, some Jews, including entire families, committed suicide.

In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, the Nazis blamed the Jews and fined them 1 billion marks (or $400 million in 1938 dollars) for vom Rath’s death. As repayment, the government seized Jewish property and kept insurance money owed to Jewish people. In its quest to create a master Aryan race, the Nazi government enacted further discriminatory policies that essentially excluded Jews from all aspects of public life.

Over 100,000 Jews fled Germany for other countries after Kristallnacht. The international community was outraged by the violent events of November 9 and 10. Some countries broke off diplomatic relations in protest, but the Nazis suffered no serious consequences, leading them to believe they could get away with the mass murder that was the Holocaust, in which an estimated 6 million European Jews died.

From The History Channel

 

November 8 German scientist discovers X-rays on this date in history

On this day in 1895, physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen (1845-1923) becomes the first person to observe X-rays, a significant scientific advancement that would ultimately benefit a variety of fields, most of all medicine, by making the invisible visible. Rontgen’s discovery occurred accidentally in his Wurzburg, Germany, lab, where he was testing whether cathode rays could pass through glass when he noticed a glow coming from a nearby chemically coated screen. He dubbed the rays that caused this glow X-rays because of their unknown nature.

X-rays are electromagnetic energy waves that act similarly to light rays, but at wavelengths approximately 1,000 times shorter than those of light. Rontgen holed up in his lab and conducted a series of experiments to better understand his discovery. He learned that X-rays penetrate human flesh but not higher-density substances such as bone or lead and that they can be photographed.

Rontgen’s discovery was labeled a medical miracle and X-rays soon became an important diagnostic tool in medicine, allowing doctors to see inside the human body for the first time without surgery. In 1897, X-rays were first used on a military battlefield, during the Balkan War, to find bullets and broken bones inside patients.

Scientists were quick to realize the benefits of X-rays, but slower to comprehend the harmful effects of radiation. Initially, it was believed X-rays passed through flesh as harmlessly as light. However, within several years, researchers began to report cases of burns and skin damage after exposure to X-rays, and in 1904, Thomas Edison’s assistant, Clarence Dally, who had worked extensively with X-rays, died of skin cancer. Dally’s death caused some scientists to begin taking the risks of radiation more seriously, but they still weren’t fully understood. During the 1930s, 40s and 50s, in fact, many American shoe stores featured shoe-fitting fluoroscopes that used to X-rays to enable customers to see the bones in their feet; it wasn’t until the 1950s that this practice was determined to be risky business. Wilhelm Rontgen received numerous accolades for his work, including the first Nobel Prize in physics in 1901, yet he remained modest and never tried to patent his discovery. Today, X-ray technology is widely used in medicine, material analysis and devices such as airport security scanners.

From The History Channel

November 7 Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapses on this date in history

Only four months after its completion, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State suffers a spectacular collapse.

When it opened in 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world. Built to replace the ferry system that took commuters from Tacoma across the Tacoma Narrows to the Gig Harbor Peninsula, the bridge spanned 2,800 feet and took three years to build. To save cost, the principle engineer, Leon Moisseiff, designed the bridge with an unusually slender frame that measured 39 feet and accommodated just two vehicular lanes.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened with great fanfare on July 1, 1940. Human traffic across the waters of the Tacoma Narrows increased dramatically, but many drivers were drawn to the toll bridge not by convenience but by an unusual characteristic of the structure. When moderate to high winds blew, as they invariably do in the Tacoma Narrows, the bridge roadway would sway from side to side and sometimes suffer excessive vertical undulations. Some drivers reported that vehicles ahead of them would disappear and reappear several times as they crossed the bridge. On a windy day, tourists treated the bridge toll as the fee paid to ride a roller-coaster ride, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge earned the nickname “Galloping Gertie.”

Attempts were made to stabilize the structure, but they were in vain. On November 7, with a steady wind blowing at 42 mph, the roadway began to twist back and forth in an increasingly violent fashion. Before closing the span, the toll keeper on the bridge’s west side let one last motorist pass, Tacoma News Tribune copy editor Leonard Coatsworth. Halfway across the bridge, Coatsworth lost control of his car. When the roadway tipped so sharply that it seemed his car would topple off, he decided to flee on foot. He tried to retrieve his daughter’s black cocker spaniel from the back seat of the car, but the dog snapped at him and refused to budge. Coatsworth ran to safety and called the Tribune, who dispatched a reporter and photographer to the scene.

Tribune photographer Howard Clifford was the last man on the bridge before the center span broke off at 11 a.m. and plunged 190 feet into the turbulent Tacoma Narrows. Trapped on the suddenly destabilized side spans, he narrowly avoided being thrown off and ran to safety. The sole casualty of the disaster was the cocker spaniel in Coatsworth’s car, which fell into the Narrows and disappeared beneath the foam.

At the time, the engineering community was perplexed about how a bridge designed to withstand winds of up to 120 mph could collapse in a wind of 42 mph. Experts still disagree on the exact cause of the bridge’s destruction, but most agree the collapse was related to resonance, a phenomenon that also comes into play when a soprano shatters a glass with her voice. In the case of the Tacoma Narrows, the wind resonated with the natural frequency of the structure, causing a steady increase in amplitude until the bridge was destroyed.

After the Tacoma Narrows disaster, bridge builders took care to incorporate aerodynamics into their designs and build structures with complex frequencies. Wind-tunnel testing of bridge designs eventually became mandatory. A new Tacoma Narrows Bridge was finally erected in 1950, complete with a wider roadway, deep stiffening trusses under the roadway, and other features designed to dampen the effect of wind. In 1992, the remains of Galloping Gertie in the Tacoma Narrows were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From The History Channel

November 6 U.N. condemns apartheid on this date in history

On this day in 1962, the United Nations General Assembly adopts a resolution condemning South Africa’s racist apartheid policies and calling on all its members to end economic and military relations with the country.

In effect from 1948 to 1993, apartheid, which comes from the Afrikaans word for “apartness,” was government-sanctioned racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against South Africa’s non-white majority. Among many injustices, blacks were forced to live in segregated areas and couldn’t enter whites-only neighborhoods unless they had a special pass. Although whites represented only a small fraction of the population, they held the vast majority of the country’s land and wealth.

Following the 1960 massacre of unarmed demonstrators at Sharpeville near Johannesburg, South Africa, in which 69 blacks were killed and over 180 were injured, the international movement to end apartheid gained wide support. However, few Western powers or South Africa’s other main trading partners favored a full economic or military embargo against the country. Nonetheless, opposition to apartheid within the U.N. grew, and in 1973 a U.N. resolution labeled apartheid a “crime against humanity.” In 1974, South Africa was suspended from the General Assembly.

After decades of strikes, sanctions and increasingly violent demonstrations, many apartheid laws were repealed by 1990. Finally, in 1991, under President F.W. de Klerk, the South African government repealed all remaining apartheid laws and committed to writing a new constitution. In 1993, a multi-racial, multi-party transitional government was approved and, the next year, South Africa held its first fully free elections. Political activist Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison along with other anti-apartheid leaders after being convicted of treason, became South Africa’s new president.

In 1996, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established by the new government, began an investigation into the violence and human rights violations that took place under the apartheid system between 1960 and May 10, 1994 (the day Mandela was sworn in as president). The commission’s objective was not to punish people but to heal South Africa by dealing with its past in an open manner. People who committed crimes were allowed to confess and apply for amnesty. Headed by 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the TRC listened to testimony from over 20,000 witnesses from all sides of the issue—victims and their families as well as perpetrators of violence. It released its report in 1998 and condemned all major political organizations—the apartheid government in addition to anti-apartheid forces such as the African National Congress—for contributing to the violence. Based on the TRC’s recommendations, the government began making reparation payments of approximately $4,000 (U.S.) to individual victims of violence in 2003.

From The History Channel

November 5 George Selden patents gas-powered car on this date in history

On November 5, 1895, Rochester attorney George Selden wins U.S. Patent No. 549,160 for an “improved road engine” powered by a “liquid-hydrocarbon engine of the compression type.” With that, as far as the government was concerned, George Selden had invented the car–though he had never built a single one.

Selden’s design was fairly vague, and was actually based on a two-cylinder internal-combustion engine that someone else had invented: Selden had simply copied the one he’d seen on display at the 1872 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. In 1899, Selden sold his patent to a group of investors who called themselves the Electric Vehicle Company. In turn, they immediately sued the Winton Motor Carriage Company, the largest car manufacturer in the United States, for infringing on the Selden patent just by building gas-powered cars. Winton settled, and the court upheld Selden’s patent in 1903.

Soon, some automakers realized that the Selden patent didn’t have to be a threat to their business. On the contrary, it could be quite profitable and limit competition in a highly competitive industry. About 30 car companies, including Winton, got together with Selden and the EVC to form the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM). The ALAM sued anyone who built a gas-powered car without Selden’s permission–in other words, anyone who had not paid to join the Selden cartel. It also drummed up business for its own members by threatening to sue anyone who bought a car from an unlicensed company. (Its ads warned: “Don’t buy a lawsuit with your new automobile!”)

But Selden’s group, composed mostly of Eastern carmakers that built ritzy cars for rich buyers, made a mistake: It excluded the Midwestern manufacturers who built lower-priced cars for ordinary people. In particular, it excluded Henry Ford. On October 22, 1903, the ALAM sued Ford for patent infringement, but the case took until 1909, seven months after the Model T was introduced, to go to trial. Most Americans, delighted to have the opportunity to buy an affordable car, were on Ford’s side, but the judge was not: The court ruled that any gas-powered vehicle unlicensed by the ALAM violated the Selden patent and was illegal.

But on January 11, 1911, the appeals court ruled in Ford’s favor: the Selden patent, it said, only applied to replicas of the exact engine that Selden had seen in 1872.

October 4 Soviets put brutal end to Hungarian revolution on this date in history

A spontaneous national uprising that began 12 days before in Hungary is viciously crushed by Soviet tanks and troops on this day in 1956. Thousands were killed and wounded and nearly a quarter-million Hungarians fled the country.

The problems in Hungary began in October 1956, when thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding a more democratic political system and freedom from Soviet oppression. In response, Communist Party officials appointed Imre Nagy, a former premier who had been dismissed from the party for his criticisms of Stalinist policies, as the new premier. Nagy tried to restore peace and asked the Soviets to withdraw their troops. The Soviets did so, but Nagy then tried to push the Hungarian revolt forward by abolishing one-party rule. He also announced that Hungary was withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet bloc’s equivalent of NATO).

On November 4, 1956, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest to crush, once and for all, the national uprising. Vicious street fighting broke out, but the Soviets’ great power ensured victory. At 5:20 a.m., Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy announced the invasion to the nation in a grim, 35-second broadcast, declaring: “Our troops are fighting. The Government is in place.” Within hours, though, Nagy sought asylum at the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest. He was captured shortly thereafter and executed two years later. Nagy’s former colleague and imminent replacement, János Kádár, who had been flown secretly from Moscow to the city of Szolnok, 60 miles southeast of the capital, prepared to take power with Moscow’s backing.

The Soviet action stunned many people in the West. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had pledged a retreat from the Stalinist policies and repression of the past, but the violent actions in Budapest suggested otherwise. An estimated 2,500 Hungarians died and 200,000 more fled as refugees. Sporadic armed resistance, strikes and mass arrests continued for months thereafter, causing substantial economic disruption. Inaction on the part of the United States angered and frustrated many Hungarians. Voice of America radio broadcasts and speeches by President Dwight D. Eisenhowerand Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had recently suggested that the United States supported the “liberation” of “captive peoples” in communist nations. Yet, as Soviet tanks bore down on the protesters, the United States did nothing beyond issuing public statements of sympathy for their plight.

Text from The History Channel

November 3 D.C. residents cast first presidential votes on this date in history

On this day in 1964, residents of the District of Columbia cast their ballots in a presidential election for the first time. The passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961 gave citizens of the nation’s capital the right to vote for a commander in chief and vice president. They went on to help Democrat Lyndon Johnson defeat Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, the next presidential election.

Between 1776 and 1800, New York and then Philadelphia served as the temporary center of government for the newly formed United States. The capital’s location was a source of much controversy and debate, especially for Southern politicians, who didn’t want it located too far north. In 1790, Congress passed a law allowing President George Washington to choose the permanent site. As a compromise, he selected a tract of undeveloped swampland on the Potomac River, between Maryland and Virginia, and began to refer to it as Federal City. The commissioners overseeing the development of the new city picked its permanent name—Washington—to honor the president. Congress met for the first time in Washington, D.C., on November 17, 1800.

The District was put under the jurisdiction of Congress, which terminated D.C. residents’ voting rights in 1801. In 1961, the 23rd Amendment restored these rights, allowing D.C. voters to choose electors for the Electoral College based on population, with a maximum of as many electors as the least populated state. With a current population of over 550,000 residents, 61-square-mile D.C. has three electoral votes, just like Wyoming, America’s smallest state, population-wise. The majority of D.C.’s residents are African Americans and they have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in past presidential elections.

In 1970, Congress gave Washington, D.C., one non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives and with the passage of 1973’s Home Rule Act, Washingtonians got their first elected mayor and city council. In 1978, a proposed amendment would have given D.C. the right to select electors, representatives and senators, just like a state, but it failed to pass, as have subsequent calls for D.C. statehood.

From The History Channel