Today in1888, the National Geographic Society was founded in Washington, D.C., for “the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.”
The 33 men who originally met and formed the National Geographic Society were a diverse group of geographers, explorers, teachers, lawyers, cartographers, military officers and financiers. All shared an interest in scientific and geographical knowledge, and an opinion that in a time of discovery, invention, change and mass communication, Americans were becoming more curious about the world. With this in mind, the men drafted a constitution and elected as the Society’s president a lawyer and philanthropist Gardiner Greene Hubbard.
Nine months later, the Society published its first issue of National Geographic magazine. Readership did not grow until 1899. In only a few years circulation grew from 1,000 to 2 million by changing the magazine’s format. National Geographic quickly became known for its photography, being the first to print natural-color photos of sky, sea and the North and South Poles.
The Society used its magazine revenues to sponsor expeditions and research that furthered understanding of natural phenomena. In this role, the National Geographic Society has been instrumental in making possible some of the great achievements in exploration and science. To date, it has given out more than 1,400 grants, funding that helped Robert Peary journey to the North Pole, Richard Byrd fly over the South Pole, Jacques Cousteau delve into the sea and Jane Goodall observe wild chimpanzees, among many other projects.
Today, the National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions. National Geographic continues with a circulation of around 9 million.
Today in 1785, the Georgia General Assembly incorporated the University of Georgia, the first state-funded institution of higher learning in the new republic.
The previous year, the assembly had set aside 40,000 acres from which they planned to earn the money they would need to endow such an institution. In 1801, John Milledge, future governor of Georgia, donated 633 acres along the Oconee River in what is now Athens to serve as the site of the new university. Three years later, the school graduated its first class.
The new institution was named Franklin College, in honor of Benjamin, and modeled after Yale. An important distinction existed of the two institutions. Yale was founded by Congregationalist ministers on explicitly theological grounds, while the University of Georgia remained purposely independent of any theological affiliation.
Reflecting the nation as a whole, it took an additional century and a half for the university to complete a shift from religious tolerance to gender equity and racial integration. The university began admitting women in 1918, the same year President Woodrow Wilson gave his support to a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. In 1961, after a three-year legal battle, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes became the first African-American students to enroll at the University of Georgia.
On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued General War Order No. 1, ordering all land and sea forces to advance on February 22, 1862. This bold move sent a message to his commanders that the president was tired of excuses and delays in seizing the offensive against Confederate forces.
The unusual order was the product of a number of factors. Lincoln had a new secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, who replaced the corrupt Simon Cameron. The president had also been brushing up on his readings about military strategy. Lincoln felt that if enough force were brought to bear on the Confederates simultaneously, they would break. This was a simple plan that ignored a host of other factors, but Lincoln felt that if the Confederates “…weakened one to strengthen another,” the Union could step in and “seize and hold the one weakened.” Lincoln wanted to convey a sense of urgency to all the military leaders, and it worked in the West. General Ulysses S. Grant captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, respectively. McClellan, did not respond. Lincoln’s order called for strict accountability for each commander who did not follow the order, but the president had to handle McClellan carefully because the general had the backing of many Democrats.
Today in 1973 U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ended as North Vietnamese and American representatives the Paris Peace Accords were signed by officials from the United States and North Vietnam, bringing an official end to America’s most unpopular foreign war. South Vietnam refused to recognize North Vietnam. The accords did little to solve the turmoil in Vietnam or heal the domestic divisions in the United States.
On the military side, the accords seemed straightforward enough. A cease-fire was declared, and the United States promised to remove all military forces from South Vietnam within 60 days. For their part, the North Vietnamese promised to return all American prisoners of war. The nearly 150,000 North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam were allowed to remain after the cease-fire.
The political side of the agreement was somewhat less clear. The accords called for the reunification of North and South Vietnam through “peaceful means on the basis of discussions and agreements between North and South Viet-Nam.” Precisely what this entailed was left unsaid. The United States also promised to “contribute to healing the wounds of war and to postwar reconstruction of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam [North Vietnam] and throughout Indochina.”
Most Americans were relieved simply to be out of the Vietnam quagmire. Over 58,000 Americans had been killed, 300,000 wounded and 2,500 declared missing. A total of 566 prisoners-of-war had been held by the North Vietnamese during the war, with 55 reported deaths.
The cease-fire almost immediately collapsed, with recriminations and accusations flying from both sides. In 1975, the North Vietnamese launched a massive military offensive, crushed the South Vietnamese forces, and reunified Vietnam under communist rule.
Today in 2004, at Los Angeles, Sigourney Weaver joined Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, to announce the 76th annual Academy Award nominations, chosen by the 5,803 members with mail-in ballots. One of the leading stories to come out of that year’s nominations was the Best Actress nod given to Keisha Castle-Hughes, the 13-year-old star of the independent film “Whale Rider” and the youngest actress ever to be nominated in the category. (The youngest winner of a contended Academy Award was 10-year-old Tatum O’Neal, who collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1973’s “Paper Moon”.)
Though she lost to Charlize Theron (Monster), the nomination marked her arrival on the Hollywood scene. She soon appeared in the video for Prince’s song “Cinnamon Girl.” In 2005, Castle-Hughes played the Queen of Naboo in “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith”(2005) and starred as Mary in “The Nativity Story”(2006); “Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Blueburger “(2007) and “Vintner’s Luck” (2009).
Keisha has continued to appear in movie and TV production roles.
Today in 1951 the government detonated the first of a series of nuclear bombs at its new Nevada test site, the flash from which was seen as far away as San Francisco.
In December 1950, the Atomic Energy Commission designated a large swath of unpopulated desert land 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the Nevada Proving Ground for atmospheric atomic testing. By 1957, the effects of radioactivity on the soldiers and the surrounding population led the government to begin testing bombs underground, and by 1962, all atmospheric testing had ceased.
Specialist Four Donald W. Evans, a 23-year-old medic, was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for action today in 1967 at the Kontum Province.
Without hesitation, Evans charged forward through 100 yards of open ground to reach six wounded soldiers. With total disregard for his own safety, he moved among the soldiers, treating the men and carrying two of the more seriously wounded back to his platoon. Grenade fragments hit Evans, but he ignored his wounds to rejoin his unit as it entered the battle. Twice more he carried the wounded out of the line of fire. He was running toward another man when he was killed by enemy fire.
Today in 1943, 8th Air Force bombers, dispatched from their bases in England, flew the first American bombing raid against the Germans, targeting the Wilhelmshaven port. Of 64 planes participating in the raid, 53 reached their target and managed to shoot down 22 German planes—and lost only three planes in return.
The success of this first mission encouraged regular daylight bombing raids, which eventually resulted in high casualty rates for the American crewmen involved.
Happy Birthday Samuel Gompers, labor leader, and activist, born today in 1850 at London, England. He emigrated to America at age 13, eventually becoming head of the Cigar Workers’ Union. He later brought together several national unions under the name American Federation of Labor and became its first president.
Gompers died December 13, 1924 at San Antonio, Texas at age 74. He is buried at Sleepy Hollow, New York; a few yards from Andrew Carnegie.
Rest in peace Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward h. White II, and Roger B. Chafee, astronauts of Apollo 1, killed today in 1967 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The astronauts, the first Americans to die in a spacecraft, had been participating in a simulation of the Apollo 1 launch scheduled for the next month. An investigation indicated that a faulty electrical wire inside the Apollo 1 command module was the probable cause of the fire. In all, there were 17 Apollo missions and six lunar landings.
Rest in peace Jerome David Salinger, author known as J. D. Salinger, who died today in 2010 at Cornish New Hampshire. He was age 91.
“The Catcher in the Rye” (1951) was Salinger’s only novel and became a best-seller. Newspapers began publishing articles about the “Catcher Cult”, and the novel was banned in several countries—as well as some U.S. schools—because of its subject matter and what Catholic World called an “excessive use of amateur swearing and coarse language”. In the 1970s, several U.S. high school teachers who assigned the book were fired or forced to resign. A 1979 study of censorship noted that The Catcher in the Rye “had the dubious distinction of being at once the most frequently censored book across the nation and the second-most frequently taught novel in public high schools” (after John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men). The book remains widely read; in 2004, the novel was selling about 250,000 copies per year, “with total worldwide sales over 10 million copies”.
Salinger’s other works include “Nine Stories,” (1953) along with “Franny and Zooey” (1961) and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction” (1963). Salinger’s last work to appear in print was a story for The New Yorker titled “Hapworth 16, 1924,” (1965).
J. D. Salinger was born January 1, 1919 at New York City.