Today in 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful flight in of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. Orville piloted the biplane, which stayed aloft for 12seconds and flew 120 feet. There were five independent witnesses.
Three more flights were made with the brothers taking turns at piloting. Wilbur flew the last flight, covering 852 feet in 59 seconds.
The first flight attempt was made December 14; the engine stalled on take-off and the plane was damaged.
By 1905 their aircraft could perform complex maneuvers and remain aloft up to 39 minutes. In 1908 the U.S. Army Signal Corps purchased a plane and the brothers founded the Wright Company.
Wilbur Wright died of typhoid in 1912; Orville lived to 1948.
The historic biplane of 1903 is displayed at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
Today in 1777, French Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, count of Vergennes, acknowledged the United States as an independent nation. The recognition was mostly a reaction to the Continental Army’s victory over the British at Saratoga in October; the news did not get to France until December 4.
A formal treaty of alliance followed on February 5, 1778.
Today in 1862 General Ulysses Grant issued General Order No. 11, which expelled Jews from his “department” of Tennessee, which included Kentucky and Mississippi.
“The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from receipt of this order.”
Grant was responsible for shutting down the black-market trade of cotton. Speculators followed his army in search of cotton and Grant thought Jews were the majority culprits. Jewish families were marched out of towns with only what they could carry.
When Grant’s order was brought to Lincoln’s attention, the president ordered Grant to rescind the policy immediately, which was done.
General Order No. 11 was apparently forgotten. Grant won the majority of the Jewish vote for his presidency in 1868.
Today in 1941 Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was relieved of his command of the US Pacific Fleet in the aftermath of the attack at Pearl Harbor.
If Kimmel had a weakness, he was a creature of habit and routine. His predictability was easy to read by Japanese observers and made his fleet vulnerable. As predicted, the fleet was anchored in Pearl Harbor. By fortunate happenstance, the carriers were not. (These same carriers would surprise the Japanese at Midway.)
Kimmel replaced James Richardson in January 1941, who was relieved by FDR after Richardson objected to basing the fleet at Pearl Harbor. (Richardson is recorded calling Pearl Harbor “a goddam mouse trap.”)
To a degree, Kimmel was made accountable for the destruction of December 7. It is not improbable that Kimmel was a scapegoat for an outraged public. He avoided a court martial by requesting early retirement. His autobiography “Admiral Kimmel’s Story” (1955) states that FDR sacrificed him and his career to deflect criticism of the president. He also states he believed FDR knew Pearl Harbor was going to be bombed—a regurgitated conspiracy theory without fact or substance.
Kimmel died May 14, 1968 at age 86.
Happy birthday Deborah Sampson, Revolutionary War combat veteran who served in the Continental Army for 17 months disguised as a man, born today in 1760 at Plympton, Massachusetts.
A doctor discovered Sampson’s gender when she fell ill with a fever and was discharged from the army. In 1792 the Massachusetts legislature awarded her pay the army had denied for being a woman. She was a friend of Paul Revere, who was also her spokesperson and benefactor on different occasions.
Sampson died April 29, 1827, at Sharon, Massachusetts. Today Sharon has a Deborah Sampson Street, a Deborah Sampson statue, Deborah Sampson Field, and Deborah Sampson House.
Happy birthday John Greenleaf Whittier, abolitionist, editor, and poet, born today in 1807 at Haverhill, Massachusetts. Whittier died September 7, 1892, at Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. He was age 84. He is buried at Amesbury, Massachusetts.