Today in 1954, Ellis Island shuts it doors after processing more than 12 million immigrants since opening in 1892. Today, an estimated 40 percent of all Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor off the New Jersey coast and named for merchant Samuel Ellis, who owned the land in the 1770s.
President Benjamin Harrison designated as America’s first federal immigration center in 1890. Before that time, the processing of immigrants had been handled by individual states.
Not all immigrants who sailed into New York had to go through Ellis Island. First- and second-class passengers submitted to a brief shipboard inspection and then disembarked at the piers in New York or New Jersey, where they passed through customs. People in third class, though, were transported to Ellis Island, where they underwent medical and legal inspections to ensure they didn’t have a contagious disease or some condition that would make them a burden to the government. Only two percent of all immigrants were denied entrance into the U.S.
With America’s entrance into World War I, immigration declined and Ellis Island was used as a detention center for suspected enemies. Following the war, Congress passed quota laws and the Immigration Act of 1924, which sharply reduced the number of newcomers, allowed into the country and also enabled immigrants to be processed at U.S. consulates abroad. After 1924, Ellis Island switched from a processing center to serving other purposes, such as a detention and deportation center for illegal immigrants, a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II and a Coast Guard training center. In November 1954, the last detainee, a Norwegian merchant seaman, was released and Ellis Island officially closed.
Beginning in 1984, Ellis Island underwent a $160 million renovation, the largest historic restoration project in U.S. history. In September 1990, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened to the public and today is visited by almost 2 million people each year.
Upon hearing of England’s rejection of the so-called Olive Branch Petition today in 1775, Abigail Adams writes to her husband, “Let us separate, they are unworthy to be our Brethren. Let us renounce them and instead of supplications as formerly for their prosperity and happiness, Let us beseech the almighty to blast their councils and bring to Naught all their devices.” The previous July, Congress had adopted the Olive Branch Petition.
Today in 1965, brothers Bill and Bob Summers set a world land-speed record—409.277 miles per hour—on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. They did it in an amazing, hemi-powered hot rod they called the Goldenrod. (The car got its name from the ’57 Chevy gold paint the brothers used.)
The record stood until Al Teague’s supercharged Spirit of ’76 broke it until 1991. In 2002, the Henry Ford Museum bought the Goldenrod, paying for the car’s restoration with a grant from the federal Save America’s Treasure’s Fund. The car is on display at the museum in Dearborn today.
Today in 1948 an international war crimes tribunal in Tokyo passed death sentences on seven Japanese military and government officials, including General Hideki Tojo, who served as premier of Japan from 1941 to 1944.
All 25 Japanese defendants were found guilty of breaching the laws and customs of war. In addition to the death sentences imposed on Tojo and others principals, such as Iwane Matsui, who organized the Rape of Nanking, and Heitaro Kimura, who brutalized Allied prisoners of war, 16 others were sentenced to life imprisonment. The remaining two of the 25 defendants were sentenced to lesser terms in prison.
The Tokyo trial featured only one chief prosecutor, American Joseph B. Keenan. Other nations, especially China, contributed to the proceedings, and Australian judge William Flood Webb presided. In addition to the central Tokyo trial, tribunals outside Japan judged some 5,000 Japanese guilty of war crimes; more than 900 were executed.
Today in 1980 the U.S. planetary probe Voyager 1 came within 77,000 miles of Saturn, the second-largest planet in the solar system, 950 miles from Earth. Voyager 2, a sister spacecraft, arrived at Saturn in August 1981. The Voyagers discovered three new moons around Saturn and a substantial atmosphere around Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.
Voyager 1 was preceded to Saturn by Pioneer 11, which flew by the gas giant in September 1979. The Voyager spacecrafts were equipped with high-resolution television cameras that sent back more than 30,000 images of Saturn, its rings, and satellite. Voyager 1 was actually launched 16 days after Voyager 2, but its trajectory followed a quicker path to the outer planets.
Voyager 2 was then diverted to the remaining gas giants, arriving at Uranus in January 1986 and Neptune in August 1989. Voyager 1, meanwhile, studied interplanetary space and continued on to the edge of the solar system.
In February 1998, Voyager 1 became the most distant man-made object from the sun. Voyager 2 is also traveling out of the solar system but at a slower pace. The Voyagers are expected to remain operable until about the year 2020, periodically sending back data on the edge of the solar system.
Today in 1867a conference began at Fort Laramie to discuss alternative solutions to the “Indian problem” and to initiate peace negotiations with the Sioux.
The United States had been fighting periodic battles with Sioux and Cheyenne tribes since the 1854. That year, the Grattan Massacre inspired loud calls for revenge, though largely unjustified, against the Plains Indians. Full-scale war erupted on the plains in 1864, leading to vicious fighting and the inexcusable Sand Creek Massacre, killing 105 Cheyenne women and children who were living peacefully at their winter camp. By 1867, the cost of the war against the Plains Indians, the Army’s failure to achieve decisive results, and news of atrocities like those at Sand Creek turned the American public and U.S. Congress against the Army’s aggressive military solution to the “Indian problem.”
Concluding that peaceful negotiations were preferable to war, the following year U.S. negotiators agreed to abandon forts on the Bozeman Trail in Wyoming and Montana, leaving the territory in the hands of the Sioux.
Concern about wars between the different Indian tribes led the U.S. to renege on its promise to provide guns to the Cheyenne, and the angry Indians took revenge on Kansas settlements by killing 15 men and raping five women. By late 1868, American soldiers were again preparing for war on the Plains.
Happy birthday DeWitt Wallace, magazine and book publisher born today in1889 at St. Paul, Minnesota.
After consistent rejection of his idea for a periodical of condensed articles, Wallace and his wife Lila started the magazine themselves. Working out of a basement in Manhattan, the couple published their first issue of “Reader’s Digest” in February 1922, with an initial run of 1,500 copies.
By 1929, circulation had reached 200,000 and was growing. In 1933, the magazine began publishing original articles, and the following year began to condense books. The magazine continued growing rapidly and by the end of the 20th century had the largest circulation of any publication in the world, with more than 17 million readers in dozens of countries and some 20 languages. The Wallaces donated much of their resulting wealth to philanthropic causes. They also purchased an impressive art collection, which they hung in the offices of their employees in the Pleasanton, New York, headquarters.
On January 28, 1972, DeWitt Wallace was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon.
Wallace died March 30, 1981.
Rest in peace William Franklin Beedle, known as William Holden, movie actor, who died today in 1981 at his home in Santa Monica, California, at age 63. Holden fell and hit his head; his body was found several days later. He was born April 17, 1918, at O’Fallon, Illinois.
Holden was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his role in “Sunset Boulevard” (1950); won the Academy Award for Best Actor for “Stalag 17″ (1953); and nominated for Best Actor again in “Network” (1976), famous for his line, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
Holden served as best man at his friend Ronald Reagan’s wedding to Nancy Davis in 1952. Holden’s last movie was “S.O.B.” (1981), a satire of Hollywood and the movie business.