Today in 1898 an explosion sank the battleship USS Maine at Cuba’s Havana harbor, killing 260 crew members aboard. The Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect the interests of Americans there after a rebellion against Spanish rule broke out in Havana in January.
An official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry ruled in March that the ship was blown up by a mine, without directly placing the blame on Spain. Much of Congress and a majority of the American public expressed little doubt that Spain was responsible and called for a declaration of war, which led to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898.
On December 12, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed between the United States and Spain, officially ending the Spanish-American War and granting the United States its first overseas empire with the ceding of Spanish possessions of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.
In 1976, a team of American naval investigators concluded that the Maine explosion was likely caused by a fire that ignited its ammunition stocks, not by a mine or act of sabotage. [Another source says an exploded boiler caused the tragedy.]
Today in 1950, Walt Disney’s animated Cinderella opened across the United States.
After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), four more animated hits followed –Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942)–before full-scale production was stalled by war.
As in Snow White, Cinderella gets the help of a few friends–in this case singing mice and birds as well as a Fairy Godmother–to win the heart of Prince Charming. Six years in the making, Cinderella became one of Disney’s best-loved films and one of the highest-grossing features of 1950. As with Snow White and other classic animated features, the studio held periodic re-releases of Cinderella in 1957, 1965, 1973, 1981 and 1987, keeping its popularity alive among new generations of moviegoers.
Today in 1903, toy store owner Morris Michtom placed two stuffed bears in his shop window, advertising them as Teddy bears. Michtom had earlier petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt for permission to use his nickname, Teddy. The president agreed and, before long, other toy manufacturers began turning out copies of Michtom’s stuffed bears, which soon became a national childhood institution.
Reports differ as to the exact details of the inspiration behind the Teddy bear, but it is thought that while hunting in Mississippi in 1902, Roosevelt came upon an old injured black bear that his guides had tied to a tree. While some reports claim Roosevelt shot the bear out of pity for his suffering, others insist he set the bear free. Political cartoonists later portrayed the bear as a cub.
Today in 1961, the entire 18-member U.S. figure skating team was killed in a plane crash in Berg-Kampenhout, Belgium. The team was on its way to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia. In addition to the skaters, 16 people accompanying them, including family, friends, coaches and officials, were killed. The other 38 passengers and crew aboard also died. One person on the ground was killed by shrapnel when the plane went down.
The tragedy devastated the U.S. figure skating program and meant the loss of the country’s top skating talent. After the crash, an American woman (Peggy Fleming) would not capture Olympic gold until 1968, while a U.S. man (Scott Hamilton) would not do so until 1984.
In 2011, the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, the 18 members of the 1961 figure skating team, along with the 16 people traveling with them to Prague, were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Today in1998 after 20 years of trying, racing great Dale Earnhardt Sr. finally won his first Daytona 500, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) season opener and an event dubbed the “Super Bowl of stock car racing.” He took home a then-record more than $1 million in prize money.
This was Earnhardt’s sole Daytona victory.
Tragically, on February 18, 2001, Earnhardt died at the age of 49 during a crash at that year’s 43rd Daytona 500. As it happened, the race which cost Earnhardt his life was won by Michael Waltrip, who was driving for the Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI) racing team. Earnhardt’s son, Dale Jr., also a DEI driver at the time, took second place. On February 15, 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first Daytona 500.
Happy birthday Cyrus McCormick, inventor, born today in 1809 at Rockbridge County, Virginia.
McCormick invented the horse-drawn mechanical reaper, a machine that freed farmers from hard labor and contributed to the development and cultivation of vast areas of the American Great Plains. He founded the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company (which became part of International Harvester Company in 1902).
McCormick died May 13, 1884 at Chicago, Illinois. He was age 75.
Happy birthday Susan Brownell Anthony, civil rights and woman’s suffrage leader, born today in 1820 at Adams, Massachusetts.
Anthony was a pioneer in women’s rights and woman’s suffrage. In 1872 she was arrested after voting (illegally) in the presidential election. She was commemorated in 1979 with the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, the first American woman to have her image on a U.S. coin.
Susan B. Anthony died March 13, 1906, at Rochester, New York. She was age 86. Following her death, the New York State Senate passed a resolution remembering her “unceasing labor, undaunted courage and unselfish devotion to many philanthropic purposes and to the cause of equal political rights for women.”
Women’s right to vote was affirmed on August 26, 1920, by passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Rest in peace Ethel Agnes Zimmerman, known as Ethel Merman, legendary singer, stage performer and Broadway star, who died today in 1984 at New York City. She was age 76. Her career spanned five decades.
Ethel Merman was born January 16, 1908 at Astoria, Queens, New York.