May 12 Kidnapped Lindbergh baby found dead on this date in history

The body of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh’s baby is found on this day in 1932, more than two months after he was kidnapped from his family’s Hopewell, New Jersey, mansion.

Lindbergh, who became the first worldwide celebrity five years earlier when he flew The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic, and his wife Anne discovered a ransom note in their 20-month-old child’s empty room on March 1. The kidnapper had used a ladder to climb up to the open second-floor window and had left muddy footprints in the room. The ransom note demanded $50,000 in barely literate English.

The crime captured the attention of the entire nation. The Lindbergh family was inundated by offers of assistance and false clues. Even Al Capone offered his help from prison, though it of course was conditioned on his release. For three days, investigators had found nothing and there was no further word from the kidnappers. Then, a new letter showed up, this time demanding $70,000.

It wasn’t until April 2 that the kidnappers gave instructions for dropping off the money. When the money was finally delivered, the kidnappers indicated that little baby Charles was on a boat called Nelly off the coast of Massachusetts. However, after an exhaustive search of every port, there was no sign of either the boat or the child.

On May 12, a renewed search of the area near the Lindbergh mansion turned up the baby’s body. He had been killed the night of the kidnapping and was found less than a mile from the home. The heartbroken Lindberghs ended up donating the home to charity and moved away.

The kidnapping looked like it would go unsolved until September 1934, when a marked bill from the ransom turned up. Suspicious of the driver who had given it to him, the gas station attendant who had accepted the bill wrote down his license plate number. It was tracked back to a German immigrant, Bruno Hauptmann. When his home was searched, detectives found $13,000 of Lindbergh ransom money.

Hauptmann claimed that a friend had given him the money to hold and that he had no connection to the crime. The resulting trial again was a national sensation. Famous writers Damon Runyan and Walter Winchell covered the trial. The prosecution’s case was not particularly strong. The main evidence, apart from the money, was testimony from handwriting experts that the ransom note had been written by Hauptmann and his connection with the type of wood that was used to make the ladder.

Still, the evidence and intense public pressure was enough to convict Hauptmann. In April 1935 he was executed in the electric chair.

Kidnapping was made a federal crime in the aftermath of this high-profile crime.

From The History Channel website.

May 11 Deep Blue computer defeats Garry Kasparov in chess match on this date in history

On May 11, 1997, chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov resigns after 19 moves in a game against Deep Blue, a chess-playing computer developed by scientists at IBM. This was the sixth and final game of their match, which Kasparov lost two games to one, with three draws.

Kasparov, a chess prodigy from Azerbaijan, was a skillful chess player from childhood. At 21, Kasparov played Anatoly Karpov for the world title, but the 49-game match ended indecisively. The next year, Kasparov beat Karpov to become the youngest world champion in history. With a FIDE (Federation International des Echecs) score of 2800, and a streak of 12 world chess titles in a row, Kasparov was considered the greatest chess player in history going into his match with Deep Blue.

Chess-playing computers had existed since the 1950s, but they initially saw little success against accomplished human players. That changed in 1985, when Carnegie Mellon doctoral student Feng-hsing Hsu developed a chess-playing computer named “Chiptest” that was designed to play chess at a higher level than its predecessors. Hsu and a classmate went to work for IBM, and in 1989 they were part of a team led by developer C.J. Tan that was charged with creating a computer capable of competing against the best chess players in the world. The resulting supercomputer, dubbed Deep Blue, could calculate many as 100 billion to 200 billion moves in the three minutes traditionally allotted to a player per move in standard chess.

Kasparov first played Deep Blue in 1996. The grandmaster was known for his unpredictable play, and he was able to defeat the computer by switching strategies mid-game. In 1997, Kasparov abandoned his swashbuckling style, taking more of a wait-and-see approach; this played in the computer’s favor and is commonly pointed to as the reason for his defeat.

The last game of the 1997 Kasparov v. Deep Blue match lasted only an hour. Deep Blue traded its bishop and rook for Kasparov’s queen, after sacrificing a knight to gain position on the board. The position left Kasparov defensive, but not helpless, and though he still had a playable position, Kasparov resigned–the first time in his career that he had conceded defeat. Grandmaster John Fedorowicz later gave voice to the chess community’s shock at Kasparov’s loss: “Everybody was surprised that he resigned because it didn’t seem lost. We’ve all played this position before. It’s a known position.” Kasparov said of his decision, “I lost my fighting spirit.”

From The History Channel website.

May 10 the Transcontinental railroad is completed on this day in history

On this day in 1869, the presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads meet in Promontory, Utah, and drive a ceremonial last spike into a rail line that connects their railroads. This made transcontinental railroad travel possible for the first time in U.S. history. No longer would western-bound travelers need to take the long and dangerous journey by wagon train, and the West would surely lose some of its wild charm with the new connection to the civilized East.

Since at least 1832, both Eastern and frontier statesmen realized a need to connect the two coasts. It was not until 1853, though, that Congress appropriated funds to survey several routes for the transcontinental railroad. The actual building of the railroad would have to wait even longer, as North-South tensions prevented Congress from reaching an agreement on where the line would begin.

One year into the Civil War, a Republican-controlled Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act (1862), guaranteeing public land grants and loans to the two railroads it chose to build the transcontinental line, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. With these in hand, the railroads began work in 1866 from Omaha and Sacramento, forging a northern route across the country. In their eagerness for land, the two lines built right past each other, and the final meeting place had to be renegotiated.

Harsh winters, staggering summer heat, Indian raids and the lawless, rough-and-tumble conditions of newly settled western towns made conditions for the Union Pacific laborers–mainly Civil War veterans of Irish descent–miserable. The overwhelmingly immigrant Chinese work force of the Central Pacific also had its fair share of problems, including brutal 12-hour work days laying tracks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. On more than one occasion, whole crews would be lost to avalanches, or mishaps with explosives would leave several dead.

For all the adversity they suffered, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific workers were able to finish the railroad–laying nearly 2,000 miles of track–by 1869, ahead of schedule and under budget. Journeys that had taken months by wagon train or weeks by boat now took only days. Their work had an immediate impact: The years following the construction of the railway were years of rapid growth and expansion for the United States, due in large part to the speed and ease of travel that the railroad provided.

From The History Channel website

May 9 the FDA approves “the pill” on this date in history

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the world’s first commercially produced birth-control bill–Enovid-10, made by the G.D. Searle Company of Chicago, Illinois.

Development of “the pill,” as it became popularly known, was initially commissioned by birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger and funded by heiress Katherine McCormick. Sanger, who opened the first birth-control clinic in the United States in 1916, hoped to encourage the development of a more practical and effective alternative to contraceptives that were in use at the time.

In the early 1950s, Gregory Pincus, a biochemist at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, and John Rock, a gynecologist at Harvard Medical School, began work on a birth-control pill. Clinical tests of the pill, which used synthetic progesterone and estrogen to repress ovulation in women, were initiated in 1954. On May 9, 1960, the FDA approved the pill, granting greater reproductive freedom to American women.

From The History Channel website.

May 8 V-E Day is celebrated in America and Britain on this date in history

On this day in 1945, both Great Britain and the United States celebrate Victory in Europe Day. Cities in both nations, as well as formerly occupied cities in Western Europe, put out flags and banners, rejoicing in the defeat of the Nazi war machine.

The eighth of May spelled the day when German troops throughout Europe finally laid down their arms: In Prague, Germans surrendered to their Soviet antagonists, after the latter had lost more than 8,000 soldiers, and the Germans considerably more; in Copenhagen and Oslo; at Karlshorst, near Berlin; in northern Latvia; on the Channel Island of Sark–the German surrender was realized in a final cease-fire. More surrender documents were signed in Berlin and in eastern Germany.

The main concern of many German soldiers was to elude the grasp of Soviet forces, to keep from being taken prisoner. About 1 million Germans attempted a mass exodus to the West when the fighting in Czechoslovakia ended, but were stopped by the Russians and taken captive. The Russians took approximately 2 million prisoners in the period just before and after the German surrender.

Meanwhile, more than 13,000 British POWs were released and sent back to Great Britain.

Pockets of German-Soviet confrontation would continue into the next day. On May 9, the Soviets would lose 600 more soldiers in Silesia before the Germans finally surrendered. Consequently, V-E Day was not celebrated until the ninth in Moscow, with a radio broadcast salute from Stalin himself: “The age-long struggle of the Slav nations…has ended in victory. Your courage has defeated the Nazis. The war is over.”

From The History Channel website.