Today in 1792, President George Washington signed legislation renewing the United States Post Office as a cabinet department led by the postmaster general, guaranteeing inexpensive delivery of all newspapers, stipulating the right to privacy and granting Congress the ability to expand postal service to new areas of the nation.
Prior to the American Revolution, correspondence between parties depended largely upon hired private couriers, friends and the help of merchants. Individual colonies set up informal post offices in taverns and shops where horse-drawn carriages or riders would pick up and drop off mail en route.
William Goddard laid out a plan for the Constitutional Post before the Continental Congress on October 5, 1774. Benjamin Franklin promoted Goddard’s plan and served as the first postmaster general under the Continental Congress beginning on July 26, 1775. While postmaster, Franklin streamlined postal delivery with properly surveyed and marked routes from Maine to Florida (the origins of Route 1), instituted overnight postal travel between the critical cities of New York and Philadelphia and created a standardized rate chart based upon weight and distance.
In 1792 approximately 4 million people enjoyed federally funded postal services including 75 regional post offices and 2,400 miles of postal routes. The cost of sending a letter ranged from 6 cents to 12 cents. The postmaster general’s position was considered a plum patronage post for political allies of the president until the Postal Service was transformed into a corporation run by a board of governors in 1971.
Today in 1976 the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization concluded its final military exercise and quietly shut down. SEATO had been one of the bulwarks of America’s Cold War policies in Asia, but the Vietnam War did much to destroy its cohesiveness and question its effectiveness.
SEATO was formed in 1954 during a meeting in Manila called by U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Eight nations—the United States, France, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, and Pakistan—joined together in the regional defense organization to “stem the tide of communism in Asia.”
When the United States became fully committed to the Vietnam War in 1965, it called upon its SEATO allies for assistance. Only Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand responded with a few thousand troops and other aid. This made clear that the driving force behind SEATO was the United States. Despite their anticommunist rhetoric, Great Britain and France wanted no part of another Asian war and Pakistan simply wanted the military assistance that membership in SEATO granted.
By the time the conflict in Vietnam ended in 1975 only five nations were left to carry out the final SEATO military exercise. A mere 188 troops from the United States, Great Britain, the Philippines, Thailand, and New Zealand showed up in the Philippines to conduct what was basically a civic action operation. Roads, schools, and a dam were built by the troops in the Philippine countryside. Afterwards, while “Auld Lang Syne” was played, closing ceremonies marked the end of SEATO.
Today in 1962, John Hershel Glenn Jr. was launched into space aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft at Cape Canaveral, Florida, the first orbital flight by an American astronaut. He reached an altitude of 162 miles and completed three orbits in a flight lasting just under five hours.
Glenn was the third American in space, preceded by Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom who had each completed short sub-orbital flights. All of them had been preceded by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who was the first human in space, completing one orbit on April 12, 1961.
Glenn was hailed as a national hero, and on February 23 President John F. Kennedy visited him at Cape Canaveral. He later addressed Congress and was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City.
On October 29, 1998, on the space shuttle Discovery, the 77-year-old Glenn became the oldest human ever to travel in space. During the nine-day mission, he served as part of a NASA study on health problems associated with aging. In 1999, he retired from his U.S. Senate seat after four consecutive terms in office, a record for the state of Ohio.
Today in1992, 24-year-old John Singleton became the youngest person, and the first African American, ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for Boyz N the Hood (1991). Singleton also scored an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Today in1998, 15-year-old Tara Lipinski won the gold medal in women’s figure skating at the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, and becomes the youngest gold medalist in her sport. (At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, 16-year-old Oksana Baiul from Ukraine won the gold in women’s figure skating.)
In April 1998, Lipinski announced she was turning professional. She went on to perform in skating shows such as “Stars on Ice” and also pursued an acting career. In 2006, she was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
Today in 1942 Lt. Edward O’Hare took off from the aircraft carrier Lexington in a raid against the Japanese position at Rabaul-and minutes later becomes America’s first flying ace.
As the Lexington left Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific (and still free from Japanese control), for Rabaul, ship radar picked up Japanese bombers headed straight for the carrier. O’Hare and his team went into action, piloting F4F Wildcats. In a mere four minutes, O’Hare shot down five Japanese G4M1 Betty bombers–bringing a swift end to the Japanese attack and earning O’Hare the designation “ace” (given to any pilot who had five or more downed enemy planes to his credit).
O’Hare was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Happy birthdayAnsel Easton Adams, photographer and environmentalist, born today in 1902 at San Francisco, California.
Adams is best known for his black-and-white landscape photographs of the American West, especially Yosemite National Park. His photographs are reproduced on calendars, posters, and in books, making his photographs widely distributed.
Adams died on April 22, 1984, at Monterey, California. He was age 82. His cremated remains were scattered on Mount Ansel Adams.
Adams received a number of awards during his lifetime and posthumously and there has been a few awards named for him. Mt. Ansel Adams in Yosemite was named in his honor shortly after he died. The Minarets Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest and a 11,760-foot peak were renamed the Ansel Adams Wilderness and Mount Ansel Adams respectively in 1985.