This Day in History...from The History Channel

Syndicate content
This Day in History content from History.com for Lead Story
Updated: 30 min 23 sec ago

March 10, 1959: Rebellion in Tibet

Sun, 03/09/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 1959, Tibetans band together in revolt, surrounding the summer palace of the Dalai Lama in defiance of Chinese occupation forces.

China's occupation of Tibet began nearly a decade before, in October 1950, when troops from its People's Liberation Army (PLA) invaded the country, barely one year after the Communists gained full control of mainland China. The Tibetan government gave into Chinese pressure the following year, signing a treaty that ensured the power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the country's spiritual leader, over Tibet's domestic affairs. Resistance to the Chinese occupation built steadily over the next several years, including a revolt in several areas of eastern Tibet in 1956. By December 1958, rebellion was simmering in Lhasa, the capital, and the PLA command threatened to bomb the city if order was not maintained.

The March 1959 uprising in Lhasa was triggered by fears of a plot to kidnap the Dalai Lama and take him to Beijing. When Chinese military officers invited His Holiness to visit the PLA headquarters for a theatrical performance and official tea, he was told he must come alone, and that no Tibetan military bodyguards or personnel would be allowed past the edges of the military camp. On March 10, 300,000 loyal Tibetans surrounded Norbulinka Palace, preventing the Dalai Lama from accepting the PLA's invitation. By March 17, Chinese artillery was aimed at the palace, and the Dalai Lama was evacuated to neighboring India. Fighting broke out in Lhasa two days later, with Tibetan rebels hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. Early on March 21, the Chinese began shelling Norbulinka, slaughtering tens of thousands of men, women and children still camped outside. In the aftermath, the PLA cracked down on Tibetan resistance, executing the Dalai Lama’s guards and destroying Lhasa's major monasteries along with thousands of their inhabitants.

China's stranglehold on Tibet and its brutal suppression of separatist activity has continued in the decades following the unsuccessful uprising. Tens of thousands of Tibetans followed their leader to India, where the Dalai Lama has long maintained a government-in-exile in the foothills of the Himalayas. 

March 9, 1959: Barbie makes her debut

Sat, 03/08/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1959, the first Barbie doll goes on display at the American Toy Fair in New York City.

Eleven inches tall, with a waterfall of blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. The woman behind Barbie was Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945. After seeing her young daughter ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, Handler realized there was an important niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future.

Barbie's appearance was modeled on a doll named Lilli, based on a German comic strip character. Originally marketed as a racy gag gift to adult men in tobacco shops, the Lilli doll later became extremely popular with children. Mattel bought the rights to Lilli and made its own version, which Handler named after her daughter, Barbara. With its sponsorship of the "Mickey Mouse Club" TV program in 1955, Mattel became the first toy company to broadcast commercials to children. They used this medium to promote their new toy, and by 1961, the enormous consumer demand for the doll led Mattel to release a boyfriend for Barbie. Handler named him Ken, after her son. Barbie's best friend, Midge, came out in 1963; her little sister, Skipper, debuted the following year.   

Over the years, Barbie generated huge sales--and a lot of controversy. On the positive side, many women saw Barbie as providing an alternative to traditional 1950s gender roles. She has had a series of different jobs, from airline stewardess, doctor, pilot and astronaut to Olympic athlete and even U.S. presidential candidate. Others thought Barbie's never-ending supply of designer outfits, cars and "Dream Houses" encouraged kids to be materialistic. It was Barbie's appearance that caused the most controversy, however. Her tiny waist and enormous breasts--it was estimated that if she were a real woman, her measurements would be 36-18-38--led many to claim that Barbie provided little girls with an unrealistic and harmful example and fostered negative body image.

Despite the criticism, sales of Barbie-related merchandise continued to soar, topping 1 billion dollars annually by 1993. Since 1959, more than 800 million dolls in the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide global icon.

March 8, 1917: February Revolution begins

Fri, 03/07/2014 - 11:00pm

In Russia, the February Revolution (known as such because of Russia's use of the Julian calendar) begins when riots and strikes over the scarcity of food erupt in Petrograd. One week later, centuries of czarist rule in Russia ended with the abdication of Nicholas II, and Russia took a dramatic step closer toward communist revolution.

By 1917, most Russians had lost faith in the leadership ability of the czarist regime. Government corruption was rampant, the Russian economy remained backward, and Nicholas repeatedly dissolved the Duma, the Russian parliament established after the Revolution of 1905, when it opposed his will. However, the immediate cause of the February Revolution--the first phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917--was Russia's disastrous involvement in World War I. Militarily, imperial Russia was no match for industrialized Germany, and Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any nation in any previous war. Meanwhile, the economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort, and moderates joined Russian radical elements in calling for the overthrow of the czar.

On March 8, 1917, demonstrators clamoring for bread took to the streets in the Russian capital of Petrograd (now known as St. Petersburg). Supported by 90,000 men and women on strike, the protesters clashed with police but refused to leave the streets. On March 10, the strike spread among all of Petrograd's workers, and irate mobs of workers destroyed police stations. Several factories elected deputies to the Petrograd Soviet, or "council," of workers' committees, following the model devised during the Revolution of 1905.

On March 11, the troops of the Petrograd army garrison were called out to quell the uprising. In some encounters, regiments opened fire, killing demonstrators, but the protesters kept to the streets, and the troops began to waver. That day, Nicholas again dissolved the Duma. On March 12, the revolution triumphed when regiment after regiment of the Petrograd garrison defected to the cause of the demonstrators. The soldiers, some 150,000 men, subsequently formed committees that elected deputies to the Petrograd Soviet.

The imperial government was forced to resign, and the Duma formed a provisional government that peacefully vied with the Petrograd Soviet for control of the revolution. On March 14, the Petrograd Soviet issued "Order No. 1," which instructed Russian soldiers and sailors to obey only those orders that did not conflict with the directives of the Soviet. The next day, March 15, Czar Nicholas II abdicated the throne in favor of his brother Michael, whose refusal of the crown brought an end to the czarist autocracy.

The new provincial government, tolerated by the Petrograd Soviet, hoped to salvage the Russian war effort while ending the food shortage and many other domestic crises. It would prove a daunting task. Meanwhile, Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik revolutionary party, left his exile in Switzerland and crossed German enemy lines to return home and take control of the Russian Revolution.

March 7, 1876: Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone

Thu, 03/06/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1876, 29-year-old Alexander Graham Bell receives a patent for his revolutionary new invention--the telephone.

The Scottish-born Bell worked in London with his father, Melville Bell, who developed Visible Speech, a written system used to teach speaking to the deaf. In the 1870s, the Bells moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where the younger Bell found work as a teacher at the Pemberton Avenue School for the Deaf. He later married one of his students, Mabel Hubbard.

While in Boston, Bell became very interested in the possibility of transmitting speech over wires. Samuel F.B. Morse's invention of the telegraph in 1843 had made nearly instantaneous communication possible between two distant points. The drawback of the telegraph, however, was that it still required hand-delivery of messages between telegraph stations and recipients, and only one message could be transmitted at a time. Bell wanted to improve on this by creating a "harmonic telegraph," a device that combined aspects of the telegraph and record player to allow individuals to speak to each other from a distance.

With the help of Thomas A. Watson, a Boston machine shop employee, Bell developed a prototype. In this first telephone, sound waves caused an electric current to vary in intensity and frequency, causing a thin, soft iron plate--called the diaphragm--to vibrate. These vibrations were transferred magnetically to another wire connected to a diaphragm in another, distant instrument. When that diaphragm vibrated, the original sound would be replicated in the ear of the receiving instrument. Three days after filing the patent, the telephone carried its first intelligible message--the famous "Mr. Watson, come here, I need you"--from Bell to his assistant.

Bell's patent filing beat a similar claim by Elisha Gray by only two hours. Not wanting to be shut out of the communications market, Western Union Telegraph Company employed Gray and fellow inventor Thomas A. Edison to develop their own telephone technology. Bell sued, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld Bell's patent rights. In the years to come, the Bell Company withstood repeated legal challenges to emerge as the massive American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) and form the foundation of the modern telecommunications industry.

March 6, 1899: Bayer patents aspirin

Wed, 03/05/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1899, the Imperial Patent Office in Berlin registers Aspirin, the brand name for acetylsalicylic acid, on behalf of the German pharmaceutical company Friedrich Bayer & Co. 

Now the most common drug in household medicine cabinets, acetylsalicylic acid was originally made from a chemical found in the bark of willow trees. In its primitive form, the active ingredient, salicin, was used for centuries in folk medicine, beginning in ancient Greece when Hippocrates used it to relieve pain and fever. Known to doctors since the mid-19thcentury, it was used sparingly due to its unpleasant taste and tendency to damage the stomach.

In 1897, Bayer employee Felix Hoffman found a way to create a stable form of the drug that was easier and more pleasant to take. (Some evidence shows that Hoffman's work was really done by a Jewish chemist, Arthur Eichengrun, whose contributions were covered up during the Nazi era.) After obtaining the patent rights, Bayer began distributing aspirin in powder form to physicians to give to their patients one gram at a time. The brand name came from "a" for acetyl, "spir" from the spirea plant (a source of salicin) and the suffix "in," commonly used for medications. It quickly became the number-one drug worldwide.

Aspirin was made available in tablet form and without a prescription in 1915. Two years later, when Bayer's patent expired during the First World War, the company lost the trademark rights to aspirin in various countries. After the United States entered the war against Germany in April 1917, the Alien Property Custodian, a government agency that administers foreign property, seized Bayer's U.S. assets. Two years later, the Bayer company name and trademarks for the United States and Canada were auctioned off and purchased by Sterling Products Company, later Sterling Winthrop, for $5.3 million.

Bayer became part of IG Farben, the conglomerate of German chemical industries that formed the financial heart of the Nazi regime. After World War II, the Allies split apart IG Farben, and Bayer again emerged as an individual company. Its purchase of Miles Laboratories in 1978 gave it a product line including Alka-Seltzer and Flintstones and One-A-Day Vitamins. In 1994, Bayer bought Sterling Winthrop's over-the-counter business, gaining back rights to the Bayer name and logo and allowing the company once again to profit from American sales of its most famous product.  

 

March 5, 1963: Hula-Hoop patented

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1963, the Hula-Hoop, a hip-swiveling toy that became a huge fad across America when it was first marketed by Wham-O in 1958, is patented by the company's co-founder, Arthur "Spud" Melin. An estimated 25 million Hula-Hoops were sold in its first four months of production alone.

In 1948, friends Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr founded a company in California to sell a slingshot they created to shoot meat up to falcons they used for hunting. The company’s name, Wham-O, came from the sound the slingshots supposedly made. Wham-O eventually branched out from slingshots, selling boomerangs and other sporting goods. Its first hit toy, a flying plastic disc known as the Frisbee, debuted in 1957. The Frisbee was originally marketed under a different name, the Pluto Platter, in an effort to capitalize on America's fascination with UFOs.

Melina and Knerr were inspired to develop the Hula-Hoop after they saw a wooden hoop that Australian children twirled around their waists during gym class. Wham-O began producing a plastic version of the hoop, dubbed "Hula" after the hip-gyrating Hawaiian dance of the same name, and demonstrating it on Southern California playgrounds. Hula-Hoop mania took off from there.

The enormous popularity of the Hula-Hoop was short-lived and within a matter of months, the masses were on to the next big thing. However, the Hula-Hoop never faded away completely and still has its fans today. According to Ripley's Believe It or Not, in April 2004, a performer at the Big Apple Circus in Boston simultaneously spun 100 hoops around her body. Earlier that same year, in January, according to the Guinness World Records, two people in Tokyo, Japan, managed to spin the world's largest hoop--at 13 feet, 4 inches--around their waists at least three times each.

Following the Hula-Hoop, Wham-O continued to produce a steady stream of wacky and beloved novelty items, including the Superball, Water Wiggle, Silly String, Slip 'n' Slide and the Hacky Sack.

March 4, 1933: FDR inaugurated

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 11:00pm

On March 4, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is inaugurated as the 32nd president of the United States. In his famous inaugural address, delivered outside the east wing of the U.S. Capitol, Roosevelt outlined his "New Deal"--an expansion of the federal government as an instrument of employment opportunity and welfare--and told Americans that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Although it was a rainy day in Washington, and gusts of rain blew over Roosevelt as he spoke, he delivered a speech that radiated optimism and competence, and a broad majority of Americans united behind their new president and his radical economic proposals to lead the nation out of the Great Depression.

Born into an upper-class family in Hyde Park, New York, in 1882, Roosevelt was the fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, who served as the 26th U.S. president from 1901 to 1909. In 1905, Franklin Roosevelt, who was at the time a student at Columbia University Law School, married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the niece of Theodore Roosevelt. After three years as a lawyer, he decided to follow his cousin Theodore's lead and sought public office, winning election to the New York State Senate in 1910 as a Democrat. He soon won a reputation as a charismatic politician dedicated to social and economic reform.

Roosevelt supported the progressive New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, and after Wilson's election in 1912 Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, a post that Theodore Roosevelt once held. In 1920, Roosevelt, who had proved himself a gifted administrator, won the Democratic nomination for vice president on a ticket with James Cox. The Democrats lost in a landslide to Republicans Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, and Roosevelt returned to his law practice and undertook several business ventures.

In 1921, he was stricken with poliomyelitis, the virus that causes the crippling disease of polio. He spent several years recovering from what was at first nearly total paralysis, and his wife, Eleanor, kept his name alive in Democratic circles. He never fully covered and was forced to use braces or a wheelchair to move around for the rest of his life.

In 1924, Roosevelt returned to politics when he nominated New York Governor Alfred E. Smith for the presidency with a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention. In 1928, he again nominated Smith, and the outgoing New York governor urged Roosevelt to run for his gubernatorial seat. Roosevelt campaigned across the state by automobile and was elected even as the state voted for Republican Herbert Hoover in the presidential election.

As governor, Roosevelt worked for tax relief for farmers and in 1930 won a resounding electoral victory just as the economic recession brought on by the October 1929 stock market crash was turning into a major depression. During his second term, Governor Roosevelt mobilized the state government to play an active role in providing relief and spurring economic recovery. His aggressive approach to the economic crisis, coupled with his obvious political abilities, gave him the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932.

Roosevelt had no trouble defeating President Herbert Hoover, who many blamed for the Depression, and the governor carried all but six states. During the next four months, the economy continued to decline, and when Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, most banks were closed, farms were suffering, 13 million workers were unemployed, and industrial production stood at just over half its 1929 level.

Aided by a Democratic Congress, Roosevelt took prompt, decisive action, and most of his New Deal proposals, such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, National Industrial Recovery Act, and creation of the Public Works Administration and Tennessee Valley Authority, were approved within his first 100 days in office. Although criticized by many in the business community, Roosevelt's progressive legislation improved America's economic climate, and in 1936 he easily won reelection.

During his second term, he became increasingly concerned with German and Japanese aggression and so began a long campaign to awaken America from its isolationist slumber. In 1940, with World War II raging in Europe and the Pacific, Roosevelt agreed to run for an unprecedented third term. Reelected by Americans who valued his strong leadership, he proved a highly effective commander in chief after the December 1941 U.S. entrance into the war. Under Roosevelt's guidance, America became, in his own words, the "great arsenal of democracy" and succeeded in shifting the balance of power in World War II firmly in the Allies' favor. In 1944, with the war not yet won, he was reelected to a fourth term.

Three months after his inauguration, while resting at his retreat at Warm Springs, Georgia, Roosevelt died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 63. Following a solemn parade of his coffin through the streets of the nation's capital, his body was buried in a family plot in Hyde Park. Millions of Americans mourned the death of the man who led the United States through two of the greatest crises of the 20th century: the Great Depression and World War II. Roosevelt's unparalleled 13 years as president led to the passing of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limited future presidents to a maximum of two consecutive elected terms in office.

March 3, 1887: Helen Keller meets her miracle worker

Sun, 03/02/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1887, Anne Sullivan begins teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months. Under Sullivan's tutelage, including her pioneering "touch teaching" techniques, the previously uncontrollable Keller flourished, eventually graduating from college and becoming an international lecturer and activist. Sullivan, later dubbed "the miracle worker," remained Keller's interpreter and constant companion until the older woman's death in 1936.

Sullivan, born in Massachusetts in 1866, had firsthand experience with being handicapped: As a child, an infection impaired her vision. She then attended the Perkins Institution for the Blind where she learned the manual alphabet in order to communicate with a classmate who was deaf and blind. Eventually, Sullivan had several operations that improved her weakened eyesight.

Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, to Arthur Keller, a former Confederate army officer and newspaper publisher, and his wife Kate, of Tuscumbia, Alabama. As a baby, a brief illness, possibly scarlet fever, left Helen unable to see, hear or speak. She was considered a bright but spoiled and strong-willed child. Her parents eventually sought the advice of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone and an authority on the deaf. He suggested the Kellers contact the Perkins Institution, which in turn recommended Anne Sullivan as a teacher.

Sullivan, age 20, arrived at Ivy Green, the Keller family estate, in 1887 and began working to socialize her wild, stubborn student and teach her by spelling out words in Keller's hand. Initially, the finger spelling meant nothing to Keller. However, a breakthrough occurred one day when Sullivan held one of Keller's hands under water from a pump and spelled out "w-a-t-e-r" in Keller's palm. Keller went on to learn how to read, write and speak. With Sullivan's assistance, Keller attended Radcliffe College and graduated with honors in 1904.

Helen Keller became a public speaker and author; her first book, "The Story of My Life" was published in 1902. She was also a fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Blind and an advocate for racial and sexual equality, as well as socialism. From 1920 to 1924, Sullivan and Keller even formed a vaudeville act to educate the public and earn money. Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, at her home in Westport, Connecticut, at age 87, leaving her mark on the world by helping to alter perceptions about the disabled.

March 2, 1904: Dr. Seuss born

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1904, Theodor Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss, the author and illustrator of such beloved children's books as "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham," is born in Springfield, Massachusetts. Geisel, who used his middle name (which was also his mother's maiden name) as his pen name, wrote 48 books--including some for adults--that have sold well over 200 million copies and been translated into multiple languages. Dr. Seuss books are known for their whimsical rhymes and quirky characters, which have names like the Lorax and the Sneetches and live in places like Hooterville.

Geisel, who was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts, graduated from Dartmouth College, where he was editor of the school's humor magazine, and studied at Oxford University. There he met Helen Palmer, his first wife and the person who encouraged him to become a professional illustrator. Back in America, Geisel worked as a cartoonist for a variety of magazines and in advertising.

The first children's book that Geisel wrote and illustrated, "And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street," was rejected by over two dozen publishers before making it into print in 1937. Geisel's first bestseller, "The Cat in the Hat," was published in 1957. The story of a mischievous cat in a tall striped hat came about after his publisher asked him to produce a book using 220 new-reader vocabulary words that could serve as an entertaining alternative to the school reading primers children found boring.

Other Dr. Seuss classics include "Yertle the Turtle," "If I Ran the Circus," "Fox in Socks" and "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."

Some Dr. Seuss books tackled serious themes. "The Butter Battle Book" (1984) was about the arms buildup and nuclear war threat during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. "Lorax" (1971) dealt with the environment.

Many Dr. Seuss books have been adapted for television and film, including "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" and "Horton Hears a Who!" In 1990, Geisel published a book for adults titled "Oh, the Places You'll Go" that became a hugely popular graduation gift for high school and college students.

Geisel, who lived and worked in an old observatory in La Jolla, California, known as "The Tower," died September 24, 1991, at age 87.

March 1, 1932: Lindbergh baby kidnapped

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1932, in a crime that captured the attention of the entire nation, Charles Lindbergh III, the 20-month-old son of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, is kidnapped from the family's new mansion in Hopewell, New Jersey. Lindbergh, who became an international celebrity when he flew the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, and his wife Anne discovered a ransom note demanding $50,000 in their son's empty room. The kidnapper used a ladder to climb up to the open second-floor window and left muddy footprints in the room.

The Lindberghs were inundated by offers of assistance and false clues. Even Al Capone offered his help from prison. For three days, investigators found nothing and there was no further word from the kidnappers. Then, a new letter showed up, this time demanding $70,000.

The kidnappers eventually gave instructions for dropping off the money and when it was delivered, the Lindberghs were told their baby was on a boat called Nelly off the coast of Massachusetts. After an exhaustive search, however, there was no sign of either the boat or the child. Soon after, the baby's body was discovered near the Lindbergh mansion. He had been killed the night of the kidnapping and was found less than a mile from home. The heartbroken Lindberghs ended up donating the mansion 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. The gas station attendant who had accepted the bill wrote down the license plate number because he was suspicious of the driver. It was tracked back to a German immigrant and carpenter, Bruno Hauptmann. When his home was searched, detectives found a chunk 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 was a national sensation. The prosecution's case was not particularly strong; the main evidence, besides the money, was testimony from handwriting experts that the ransom note had been written by Hauptmann. The prosecution also tried to establish a connection between Hauptmann and the type of wood that was used to make the ladder.

Still, the evidence and intense public pressure were enough to convict Hauptmann and he was electrocuted in 1935. In the aftermath of the crime—the most notorious of the 1930s—kidnapping was made a federal offense.

February 28, 1953: Watson and Crick discover chemical structure of DNA

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1953, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Frances H.C. Crick announce that they have determined the double-helix structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes.

Though DNA--short for deoxyribonucleic acid--was discovered in 1869, its crucial role in determining genetic inheritance wasn't demonstrated until 1943. In the early 1950s, Watson and Crick were only two of many scientists working on figuring out the structure of DNA. California chemist Linus Pauling suggested an incorrect model at the beginning of 1953, prompting Watson and Crick to try and beat Pauling at his own game. On the morning of February 28, they determined that the structure of DNA was a double-helix polymer, or a spiral of two DNA strands, each containing a long chain of monomer nucleotides, wound around each other. According to their findings, DNA replicated itself by separating into individual strands, each of which became the template for a new double helix.    In his best-selling book, The Double Helix (1968), Watson later claimed that Crick announced the discovery by walking into the nearby Eagle Pub and blurting out that "we had found the secret of life." The truth wasn’t that far off, as Watson and Crick had solved a fundamental mystery of science--how it was possible for genetic instructions to be held inside organisms and passed from generation to generation.

Watson and Crick's solution was formally announced on April 25, 1953, following its publication in that month’s issue of Nature magazine. The article revolutionized the study of biology and medicine. Among the developments that followed directly from it were pre-natal screening for disease genes; genetically engineered foods; the ability to identify human remains; the rational design of treatments for diseases such as AIDS; and the accurate testing of physical evidence in order to convict or exonerate criminals. 

Crick and Watson later had a falling-out over Watson's book, which Crick felt misrepresented their collaboration and betrayed their friendship. A larger controversy arose over the use Watson and Crick made of research done by another DNA researcher, Rosalind Franklin, whose colleague Maurice Wilkins showed her X-ray photographic work to Watson just before he and Crick made their famous discovery. When Crick and Watson won the Nobel Prize in 1962, they shared it with Wilkins. Franklin, who died in 1958 of ovarian cancer and was thus ineligible for the award, never learned of the role her photos played in the historic scientific breakthrough.  

February 27, 1827: New Orleanians take to the streets for Mardi Gras

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1827, a group of masked and costumed students dance through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, marking the beginning of the city's famous Mardi Gras celebrations.

The celebration of Carnival--or the weeks between Twelfth Night on January 6 and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian period of Lent--spread from Rome across Europe and later to the Americas. Nowhere in the United States is Carnival celebrated as grandly as in New Orleans, famous for its over-the-top parades and parties for Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season.

Though early French settlers brought the tradition of Mardi Gras to Louisiana at the end of the 17th century, Spanish governors of the province later banned the celebrations. After Louisiana became part of the United States in 1803, New Orleanians managed to convince the city council to lift the ban on wearing masks and partying in the streets. The city's new Mardi Gras tradition began in 1827 when the group of students, inspired by their experiences studying in Paris, donned masks and jester costumes and staged their own Fat Tuesday festivities.

The parties grew more and more popular, and in 1833 a rich plantation owner named Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration. After rowdy revelers began to get violent during the 1850s, a secret society called the Mistick Krewe of Comus staged the first large-scale, well-organized Mardi Gras parade in 1857.

Over time, hundreds of krewes formed, building elaborate and colorful floats for parades held over the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. Riders on the floats are usually local citizens who toss "throws" at passersby, including metal coins, stuffed toys or those now-infamous strands of beads. Though many tourists mistakenly believe Bourbon Street and the historic French Quarter are the heart of Mardi Gras festivities, none of the major parades have been allowed to enter the area since 1979 because of its narrow streets.

In February 2006, New Orleans held its Mardi Gras celebrations despite the fact that Hurricane Katrina had devastated much of the city with massive flooding the previous August. Attendance was at only 60-70 percent of the 300,000-400,000 visitors who usually attend Mardi Gras, but the celebration marked an important step in the recovery of the city, which counts on hospitality and tourism as its single largest industry. 

February 26, 1919: Two national parks preserved, 10 years apart

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in history, two national parks were established in the United States 10 years apart--the Grand Canyon in 1919 and the Grand Tetons in 1929.

Located in northwestern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is the product of millions of years of excavation by the mighty Colorado River. The chasm is exceptionally deep, dropping more than a mile into the earth, and is 15 miles across at its widest point. The canyon is home to more than 1,500 plant species and over 500 animal species, many of them endangered or unique to the area, and it's steep, multi-colored walls tell the story of 2 billion years of Earth's history.

In 1540, members of an expedition sent by the Spanish explorer Coronado became the first Europeans to discover the canyon, though because of its remoteness the area was not further explored until 300 years later. American geologist John Wesley Powell, who popularized the term "Grand Canyon" in the 1870s, became the first person to journey the entire length of the gorge in 1869. The harrowing voyage was made in four rowboats.

In January 1908, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt designated more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon a national monument; it was designated a national park under President Woodrow Wilson on February 26, 1919.

Ten years later to the day, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law a bill passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress establishing the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Home to some of the most stunning alpine scenery in the United States, the territory in and around Grand Teton National Park also has a colorful human history. The first Anglo-American to see the saw-edged Teton peaks is believed to be John Colter. After traveling with Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, Colter left the expedition during its return trip down the Missouri in 1807 to join two fur trappers headed back into the wilderness. He spent the next three years wandering through the northern Rocky Mountains, eventually finding his way into the valley at the base of the Tetons, which would later be called Jackson Hole.

Other adventurers followed in Colter's footsteps, including the French-Canadian trappers who gave the mountain range the bawdy name of "Grand Tetons," meaning "big breasts" in French. For decades trappers, outlaws, traders and Indians passed through Jackson Hole, but it was not until 1887 that settlers established the first permanent habitation. The high northern valley with its short growing season was ill suited to farming, but the early settlers found it ideal for grazing cattle.

Tourists started coming to Jackson Hole not long after the first cattle ranches. Some of the ranchers supplemented their income by catering to "dudes," eastern tenderfoots yearning to experience a little slice of the Old West in the shadow of the stunning Tetons. The tourists began to raise the first concerns about preserving the natural beauty of the region.

In 1916, Horace M. Albright, the director of the National Park Service, was the first to seriously suggest that the region be incorporated into Yellowstone National Park. The ranchers and businesses catering to tourists, however, strongly resisted the suggestion that they be pushed off their lands to make a "museum" of the Old West for eastern tourists.

Finally, after more than a decade of political maneuvering, Grand Teton National Park was created on February 26, 1929. As a concession to the ranchers and tourist operators, the park only encompassed the mountains and a narrow strip at their base. Jackson Hole itself was excluded from the park and designated merely as a scenic preserve. Albright, though, had persuaded the wealthy John D. Rockefeller to begin buying up land in the Jackson Hole area for possible future incorporation into the park. In 1949, Rockefeller donated his land holdings in Jackson Hole to the federal government that then incorporated them into the national park. Today, Grand Teton National Park encompasses 309,993 acres. Working ranches still exist in Jackson Hole, but the local economy is increasingly dependent on services provided to tourists and the wealthy owners of vacation homes.

February 25, 1964: Clay knocks out Liston

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 11:00pm

On February 25, 1964, 22-year-old Cassius Clay shocks the odds-makers by dethroning world heavyweight boxing champ Sonny Liston in a seventh-round technical knockout. The dreaded Liston, who had twice demolished former champ Floyd Patterson in one round, was an 8-to-1 favorite. However, Clay predicted victory, boasting that he would "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" and knock out Liston in the eighth round. The fleet-footed and loquacious youngster needed less time to make good on his claim--Liston, complaining of an injured shoulder, failed to answer the seventh-round bell. A few moments later, a new heavyweight champion was proclaimed.

Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1942. He started boxing when he was 12 and by age 18 had amassed a record of over 100 wins in amateur competition. In 1959, he won the International Golden Gloves heavyweight title and in 1960 a gold medal in the light heavyweight category at the Summer Olympic Games in Rome. Clay turned professional after the Olympics and went undefeated in his first 19 bouts, earning him the right to challenge Sonny Liston, who had defeated Floyd Patterson in 1962 to win the heavyweight title.

On February 25, 1964, a crowd of 8,300 spectators gathered at the Convention Hall arena in Miami Beach to see if Cassius Clay, who was nicknamed the "Louisville Lip," could put his money where his mouth was. The underdog proved no bragging fraud, and he danced and backpedaled away from Liston's powerful swings while delivering quick and punishing jabs to Liston's head. Liston hurt his shoulder in the first round, injuring some muscles as he swung for and missed his elusive target. By the time he decided to discontinue the bout between the sixth and seventh rounds, he and Clay were about equal in points. A few conjectured that Liston faked the injury and threw the fight, but there was no real evidence, such as a significant change in bidding odds just before the bout, to support this claim.

To celebrate winning the world heavyweight title, Clay went to a private party at a Miami hotel that was attended by his friend Malcolm X, an outspoken leader of the African American Muslim group known as the Nation of Islam. Two days later, a markedly more restrained Clay announced he was joining the Nation of Islam and defended the organization's concept of racial segregation while speaking of the importance of the Muslim religion in his life. Later that year, Clay, who was the descendant of a runaway Kentucky slave, rejected the name originally given to his family by a slave owner and took the Muslim name of Muhammad Ali.

Muhammad Ali would go on to become one of the 20th century's greatest sporting figures, as much for his social and political influence as his prowess in his chosen sport. After successfully defending his title nine times, it was stripped from him in 1967 after he refused induction into the U.S. Army on the grounds that he was a Muslim minister and therefore a conscientious objector. That year, he was sentenced to five years in prison for violating the Selective Service Act but was allowed to remain free as he appealed the decision. His popularity plummeted, but many across the world applauded his bold stand against the Vietnam War.

In 1970, he was allowed to return to the boxing ring, and the next year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Ali's draft evasion conviction. In 1974, he regained the heavyweight title in a match against George Foreman in Zaire and successfully defended it in a brutal 15-round contest against Joe Frazier in the Philippines in the following year. In 1978, he lost the title to Leon Spinks but later that year defeated Spinks in a rematch, making him the first boxer to win the heavyweight title three times. He retired in 1979 but returned to the ring twice in the early 1980s. In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with pugilistic Parkinson's syndrome and has suffered a slow decline of his motor functions ever since. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1996, he lit the Olympic flame at the opening ceremonies of the Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Ali's daughter, Laila, made her boxing debut in 1999.

At a White House ceremony in November 2005, Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

February 24, 1836: Alamo defenders call for help

Sun, 02/23/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1836, in San Antonio, Texas, Colonel William Travis issues a call for help on behalf of the Texan troops defending the Alamo, an old Spanish mission and fortress under attack by the Mexican army.

A native of Alabama, Travis moved to the Mexican state of Texas in 1831. He soon became a leader of the growing movement to overthrow the Mexican government and establish an independent Texan republic. When the Texas revolution began in 1835, Travis became a lieutenant-colonel in the revolutionary army and was given command of troops in the recently captured city of San Antonio de Bexar (now San Antonio). On February 23, 1836, a large Mexican force commanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana arrived suddenly in San Antonio. Travis and his troops took shelter in the Alamo, where they were soon joined by a volunteer force led by Colonel James Bowie.

Though Santa Ana's 5,000 troops heavily outnumbered the several hundred Texans, Travis and his men determined not to give up. On February 24, they answered Santa Ana's call for surrender with a bold shot from the Alamo's cannon. Furious, the Mexican general ordered his forces to launch a siege. Travis immediately recognized his disadvantage and sent out several messages via couriers asking for reinforcements. Addressing one of the pleas to "The People of Texas and All Americans in the World," Travis signed off with the now-famous phrase "Victory or Death."

Only 32 men from the nearby town of Gonzales responded to Travis' call for help, and beginning at 5:30 a.m. on March 6, Mexican forces stormed the Alamo through a gap in the fort's outer wall, killing Travis, Bowie and 190 of their men. Despite the loss of the fort, the Texan troops managed to inflict huge losses on their enemy, killing at least 600 of Santa Ana's men.

The brave defense of the Alamo became a powerful symbol for the Texas revolution, helping the rebels turn the tide in their favor. At the crucial Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 910 Texan soldiers commanded by Sam Houston defeated Santa Ana's army of 1,250 men, spurred on by cries of "Remember the Alamo!" The next day, after Texan forces captured Santa Ana himself, the general issued orders for all Mexican troops to pull back behind the Rio Grande River. On May 14, 1836, Texas officially became an independent republic. 

 

February 23, 1945: U.S. flag raised on Iwo Jima

Sat, 02/22/2014 - 11:00pm

During the bloody Battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division take the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island's highest peak and most strategic position, and raise the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis Lowery was with them and recorded the event. American soldiers fighting for control of Suribachi's slopes cheered the raising of the flag, and several hours later more Marines headed up to the crest with a larger flag. Joe Rosenthal, a photographer with the Associated Press, met them along the way and recorded the raising of the second flag along with a Marine still photographer and a motion-picture cameraman.

Rosenthal took three photographs atop Suribachi. The first, which showed five Marines and one Navy corpsman struggling to hoist the heavy flag pole, became the most reproduced photograph in history and won him a Pulitzer Prize. The accompanying motion-picture footage attests to the fact that the picture was not posed. Of the other two photos, the second was similar to the first but less affecting, and the third was a group picture of 18 soldiers smiling and waving for the camera. Many of these men, including three of the six soldiers seen raising the flag in the famous Rosenthal photo, were killed before the conclusion of the Battle for Iwo Jima in late March.

In early 1945, U.S. military command sought to gain control of the island of Iwo Jima in advance of the projected aerial campaign against the Japanese home islands. Iwo Jima, a tiny volcanic island located in the Pacific about 700 miles southeast of Japan, was to be a base for fighter aircraft and an emergency-landing site for bombers. On February 19, 1945, after three days of heavy naval and aerial bombardment, the first wave of U.S. Marines stormed onto Iwo Jima's inhospitable shores.

The Japanese garrison on the island numbered 22,000 heavily entrenched men. Their commander, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, had been expecting an Allied invasion for months and used the time wisely to construct an intricate and deadly system of underground tunnels, fortifications, and artillery that withstood the initial Allied bombardment. By the evening of the first day, despite incessant mortar fire, 30,000 U.S. Marines commanded by General Holland Smith managed to establish a solid beachhead.

During the next few days, the Marines advanced inch by inch under heavy fire from Japanese artillery and suffered suicidal charges from the Japanese infantry. Many of the Japanese defenders were never seen and remained underground manning artillery until they were blown apart by a grenade or rocket, or incinerated by a flame thrower.

While Japanese kamikaze flyers slammed into the Allied naval fleet around Iwo Jima, the Marines on the island continued their bloody advance across the island, responding to Kuribayashi's lethal defenses with remarkable endurance. On February 23, the crest of 550-foot Mount Suribachi was taken, and the next day the slopes of the extinct volcano were secured.

By March 3, U.S. forces controlled all three airfields on the island, and on March 26 the last Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima were wiped out. Only 200 of the original 22,000 Japanese defenders were captured alive. More than 6,000 Americans died taking Iwo Jima, and some 17,000 were wounded.

February 22, 1980: U.S. hockey team makes miracle on ice

Fri, 02/21/2014 - 11:00pm

In one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympic history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of college players, defeats the four-time defending gold-medal winning Soviet team at the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. The Soviet squad, previously regarded as the finest in the world, fell to the youthful American team 4-3 before a frenzied crowd of 10,000 spectators. Two days later, the Americans defeated Finland 4-2 to clinch the hockey gold.

The Soviet team had captured the previous four Olympic hockey golds, going back to 1964, and had not lost an Olympic hockey game since 1968. Three days before the Lake Placid Games began, the Soviets routed the U.S. team 10-3 in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Americans looked scrappy, but few blamed them for it--their average age, after all, was only 22, and their team captain, Mike Eruzione, was recruited from the obscurity of the Toledo Blades of the International League.

Few had high hopes for the seventh-seeded U.S. team entering the Olympic tournament, but the team soon silenced its detractors, making it through the opening round of play undefeated, with four victories and one tie, thus advancing to the four-team medal round. The Soviets, however, were seeded No. 1 and as expected went undefeated, with five victories in the first round.

On Friday afternoon, February 22, the American amateurs and the Soviet dream team met before a sold-out crowd at Lake Placid. The Soviets broke through first, with their new young star, Valery Krotov, deflecting a slap shot beyond American goalie Jim Craig's reach in the first period. Midway through the period, Buzz Schneider, the only American who had previously been an Olympian, answered the Soviet goal with a high shot over the shoulder of Vladislav Tretiak, the Soviet goalie.

The relentless Soviet attack continued as the period progressed, with Sergei Makarov giving his team a 2-1 lead. With just a few seconds left in the first period, American Ken Morrow shot the puck down the ice in desperation. Mark Johnson picked it up and sent it into the Soviet goal with one second remaining. After a brief Soviet protest, the goal was deemed good, and the game was tied.

In the second period, the irritated Soviets came out with a new goalie, Vladimir Myshkin, and turned up the attack. The Soviets dominated play in the second period, outshooting the United States 12-2, and taking a 3-2 lead with a goal by Alesandr Maltsev just over two minutes into the period. If not for several remarkable saves by Jim Craig, the Soviet lead would surely have been higher than 3-2 as the third and final 20-minute period began.

Nearly nine minutes into the period, Johnson took advantage of a Soviet penalty and knocked home a wild shot by David Silk to tie the contest again at 3-3. About a minute and a half later, Mike Eruzione, whose last name means "eruption" in Italian, picked up a loose puck in the Soviet zone and slammed it past Myshkin with a 25-foot wrist shot. For the first time in the game, the Americans had the lead, and the crowd erupted in celebration.

There were still 10 minutes of play to go, but the Americans held on, with Craig making a few more fabulous saves. With five seconds remaining, the Americans finally managed to get the puck out of their zone, and the crowd began counting down the final seconds. When the final horn sounded, the players, coaches, and team officials poured onto the ice in raucous celebration. The Soviet players, as awestruck as everyone else, waited patiently to shake their opponents' hands.

The so-called Miracle on Ice was more than just an Olympic upset; to many Americans, it was an ideological victory in the Cold War as meaningful as the Berlin Airlift or the Apollo moon landing. The upset came at an auspicious time: President Jimmy Carter had just announced that the United States was going to boycott the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Americans, faced with a major recession and the Iran hostage crisis, were in dire need of something to celebrate. After the game, President Carter called the players to congratulate them, and millions of Americans spent that Friday night in revelry over the triumph of "our boys" over the Russian pros.

As the U.S. team demonstrated in their victory over Finland two days later, it was disparaging to call the U.S. team amateurs. Three-quarters of the squad were top college players who were on their way to the National Hockey League (NHL), and coach Herb Brooks had trained the team long and hard in a manner that would have made the most authoritative Soviet coach proud. The 1980 U.S. hockey team was probably the best-conditioned American Olympic hockey team of all time--the result of countless hours running skating exercises in preparation for Lake Placid. In their play, the U.S. players adopted passing techniques developed by the Soviets for the larger international hockey rinks, while preserving the rough checking style that was known to throw the Soviets off-guard. It was these factors, combined with an exceptional afternoon of play by Craig, Johnson, Eruzione, and others, that resulted in the miracle at Lake Placid.

This improbable victory was later memorialized in a 2004 film, Miracle, starring Kurt Russell.

February 21, 1965: Malcolm X assassinated

Thu, 02/20/2014 - 11:00pm

In New York City, Malcolm X, an African American nationalist and religious leader, is assassinated by rival Black Muslims while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, Malcolm was the son of James Earl Little, a Baptist preacher who advocated the black nationalist ideals of Marcus Garvey. Threats from the Ku Klux Klan forced the family to move to Lansing, Michigan, where his father continued to preach his controversial sermons despite continuing threats. In 1931, Malcolm's father was brutally murdered by the white supremacist Black Legion, and Michigan authorities refused to prosecute those responsible. In 1937, Malcolm was taken from his family by welfare caseworkers. By the time he reached high school age, he had dropped out of school and moved to Boston, where he became increasingly involved in criminal activities.

In 1946, at the age of 21, Malcolm was sent to prison on a burglary conviction. It was there he encountered the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, whose members are popularly known as Black Muslims. The Nation of Islam advocated black nationalism and racial separatism and condemned Americans of European descent as immoral "devils." Muhammad's teachings had a strong effect on Malcolm, who entered into an intense program of self-education and took the last name "X" to symbolize his stolen African identity.

After six years, Malcolm was released from prison and became a loyal and effective minister of the Nation of Islam in Harlem, New York. In contrast with civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X advocated self-defense and the liberation of African Americans "by any means necessary." A fiery orator, Malcolm was admired by the African American community in New York and around the country.

In the early 1960s, he began to develop a more outspoken philosophy than that of Elijah Muhammad, whom he felt did not sufficiently support the civil rights movement. In late 1963, Malcolm's suggestion that President John F. Kennedy's assassination was a matter of the "chickens coming home to roost" provided Elijah Muhammad, who believed that Malcolm had become too powerful, with a convenient opportunity to suspend him from the Nation of Islam.

A few months later, Malcolm formally left the organization and made a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, where he was profoundly affected by the lack of racial discord among orthodox Muslims. He returned to America as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and in June 1964 founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which advocated black identity and held that racism, not the white race, was the greatest foe of the African American. Malcolm's new movement steadily gained followers, and his more moderate philosophy became increasingly influential in the civil rights movement, especially among the leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

On February 21, 1965, one week after his home was firebombed, Malcolm X was shot to death by Nation of Islam members while speaking at a rally of his organization in New York City.

February 20, 1985: Ireland allows sale of contraceptives

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 11:00pm

In a highly controversial vote on February 20, 1985, the Irish government defies the powerful Catholic Church and approves the sale of contraceptives.

Up until 1979, Irish law prohibited the importation and sale of contraceptives. In a 1973 case, McGee v. The Attorney General, the Irish Supreme Court found that a constitutional right to marital privacy covered the use of contraceptives. Pressured by strong conservative forces in Irish society, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, the government was slow to change the law to reflect the court's decision, and a number of proposed bills failed before reaching the books.

In 1979, the Irish health minister, Charles Haughey, introduced a bill limiting the legal provision of contraceptives to "bona fide family planning purposes." Signed into law in November 1980, the Health (Family Planning) Act ensured that contraceptives could be sold by a registered pharmacist to customers with a valid medical prescription. Still, many people saw the law as too strict. Over the next several years, a movement began to make contraceptives more easily available, causing bitter divisions inside and outside of the Dail, Ireland's main house of Parliament.

As the government debated the changes, Catholic Church leaders railed against them, warning that increased access to contraceptives would encourage the moral decay of Ireland, leading to more illegitimate children and increased rates of abortion and venereal disease. On the eve of the vote in early 1985, the Dublin archbishop claimed the legislation would send Ireland down a "slippery slope of moral degradation." Some politicians were even threatened with violence if they voted for the legislation.

On February 20, 1985, a coalition of the Fine Gael and Labour parties led by Dr. Garret FitzGerald defeated the opposition of the conservative Fianna Fail party by an 83-80 vote. The new legislation made non-medical contraceptives (condoms and spermicides) available without prescriptions to people over 18 at pharmacies; it also allowed for the distribution of these contraceptives at doctors' offices, hospitals and family planning clinics. Though it was still illegal to advertise contraceptives and use of the birth control pill remained restricted, the vote marked a major turning point in Irish history--the first-ever defeat of the Catholic Church in a head-to-head battle with the government on social legislation.

February 19, 1847: Donner Party rescued

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1847, the first rescuers reach surviving members of the Donner Party, a group of California-bound emigrants stranded by snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In the summer of 1846, in the midst of a Western-bound fever sweeping the United States, 89 people--including 31 members of the Donner and Reed families--set out in a wagon train from Springfield, Illinois. After arriving at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, the emigrants decided to avoid the usual route and try a new trail recently blazed by California promoter Lansford Hastings, the so-called "Hastings Cutoff." After electing George Donner as their captain, the party departed Fort Bridger in mid-July.  The shortcut was nothing of the sort: It set the Donner Party back nearly three weeks and cost them much-needed supplies. After suffering great hardships in the Wasatch Mountains, the Great Salt Lake Desert and along the Humboldt River, they finally reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains in early October. Despite the lateness of the season, the emigrants continued to press on, and on October 28 they camped at Truckee Lake, located in the high mountains 21 kilometers northwest of Lake Tahoe. Overnight, an early winter storm blanketed the ground with snow, blocking the mountain pass and trapping the Donner Party.

Most of the group stayed near the lake--now known as Donner Lake--while the Donner family and others made camp six miles away at Alder Creek. Building makeshift tents out of their wagons and killing their oxen for food, they hoped for a thaw that never came. Fifteen of the stronger emigrants, later known as the Forlorn Hope, set out west on snowshoes for Sutter's Fort near San Francisco on December 16. Three weeks later, after harsh weather and lack of supplies killed several of the expedition and forced the others to resort to cannibalism, seven survivors reached a Native American village.

News of the stranded Donner Party traveled fast to Sutter's Fort, and a rescue party set out on January 31. Arriving at Donner Lake 20 days later, they found the camp completely snowbound and the surviving emigrants delirious with relief at their arrival. Rescuers fed the starving group as well as they could and then began evacuating them. Three more rescue parties arrived to help, but the return to Sutter's Fort proved equally harrowing, and the last survivors didn't reach safety until late April. Of the 89 original members of the Donner Party, only 45 reached California.