This Day in History...from The History Channel

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March 11, 1997: Paul McCartney knighted

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 10:00pm

On this day in 1997, Paul McCartney, a former member of the most successful rock band in history, The Beatles, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his "services to music." The 54-year-old lad from Liverpool became Sir Paul in a centuries-old ceremony of pomp and solemnity at Buckingham Palace in central London. Fans waited outside in a scene reminiscent of Beatlemania of the 1960s. Crowds screamed as McCartney swept through the gates in his chauffeur-driven limousine and he answered with a thumbs-up.

McCartney's wife, Linda, who was fighting breast cancer, did not accompany him, but three of their four children were at the palace. "I would have loved the whole family to be here, but when we heard there were only three tickets, we had to draw straws," McCartney said. Linda McCartney would succumb to cancer 13 months later on April 17, 1998.

As for the surviving Beatles, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, Sir Paul said that since they learned that he would be knighted, "They call me 'Your Holiness.'" McCartney dedicated his knighthood to fellow Beatles George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon and the people of the northwestern port of Liverpool. In October 1965, McCartney, along with fellow band members John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, collected MBE (Member of the British Empire) medals, much to the shock of the British establishment. Lennon, who returned his MBE in 1969 as a war protest, was assassinated in New York in 1980. Harrison would also succumb to cancer, passing away on November 29, 2001.

McCartney admitted he was very nervous before the ceremony but said it had been a great experience. "Proud to be British, wonderful day and it's a long way from a little terrace (street) in Liverpool," he told reporters. Aides said he won't be calling himself "Sir Paul," the title conferred when the queen tapped him on each shoulder with a naked sword as he knelt on the investiture stool. McCartney's knighthood was considered long overdue even by the conservative standards used in Britain, which sees most such honors going to judges, scientists and politicians.

McCartney formed the group Wings after the Beatles split up in 1970, and made records with stars like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder before trying his hand at composing classical music. "The first time I really ever felt a tingle up my spine was when I saw Bill Haley and The Comets on the telly," McCartney once said. "Then I went to see them live. The ticket was 24 shillings, and I was the only one of my mates who could go as no one else had been able to save up that amount. But I was single-minded about it. I knew there was something going on here."

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.