This Day in History (30-Dec-2006) – Former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein is executed

In 1957, Saddam joined the Ba’ath Party at the age of 20, whose ultimate ideological aim was the unity of Arab states in the Middle East. In a failed attempt to assassinate Iraq’s then-president, Abd al-Karim Qasim, Saddam managed to escape to Syria with a bullet wound. In 1963, when Qasim’s government was overthrown in the so-called Ramadan Revolution, Saddam returned to Iraq. In 1968, Saddam participated in a bloodless but successful Ba’athist coup that resulted in Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr becoming Iraq’s president and Saddam his deputy. Saddam did much to modernize Iraq’s infrastructure, industry, and health-care system, and raised social services, education. Saddam also helped develop Iraq’s first chemical weapons program.

In 1979, Saddam forced al-Bakr to resign, and became president of Iraq. In 1980, Saddam ordered Iraqi forces to invade the oil-rich region of Khuzestan in Iran. After years of intense conflict that left hundreds of thousands dead on both sides, a ceasefire agreement was finally reached in 1988. In 1990, using the justification that Kuwait was a historical part of Iraq, Saddam ordered the invasion of Kuwait. UN coalition force headed by the United States defeated Iraqi forces.

Soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, Soviet intelligence relayed information to the U.S. government that indicated Iraq was planning further terrorist attacks against the United States. UN inspection in Iraq did not find any weapons of mass destructions. Despite this, on March 20, 2003, under the pretense that Iraq did in fact have a covert weapons program and that it was planning attacks, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq. Within weeks, the government and military had been toppled, and on April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell. Saddam, however, managed to elude capture. In the months that followed, an intensive search for Saddam began. Finally, on December 13, 2003, Saddam was found hiding in a small underground bunker near a farmhouse in ad-Dawr, near Tikrit. He was officially handed over to the interim Iraqi government to stand trial for crimes against humanity. On November 5, 2006, Saddam was found guilty and sentenced to death. On December 30, 2006, at Camp Justice, an Iraqi base in Baghdad, Saddam was hanged.


This Day in History (5-Dec-1848) – U.S. President James K. Polk informs the US Congress there are large amounts of gold in California, launching the Gold Rush

The great California gold rush began on January 24, 1848, when James W. Marshall discovered a gold nugget in the American River while constructing a sawmill for John Sutter, a Sacramento agriculturalist. News of Marshall’s discovery caused the large influx of “’49ers,” as the gold prospectors were known. California’s overall population growth was so swift that it was incorporated into the Union as the 31st state in 1850—just two years after the United States had acquired it from Mexico.

One of the migrations stimulated by the discovery of gold was the internal westward movement of Americans from the eastern states who hoped to make fortunes in California. At first, there were only two routes. The first entailed a six-month sea voyage from New York around the tip of South America to San Diego or San Francisco. Rampant seasickness, bug-infested food, boredom, and high expense made this route unattractive for many would-be prospectors. The second route brought travelers over the Oregon-California Trail in covered wagons—over rugged terrain and hostile territory. This journey also averaged six months’ duration. By 1850, the length and difficulty of both routes had inspired the construction of the Panama Railway, the world’s first transcontinental railroad. Built across the isthmus of Panama by private American companies to speed travel to California, the railroad helped to shave months off of the long voyage around South America.

In addition to massive emigration from the eastern US, the California gold rush triggered a global emigration of ambitious fortune-seekers from China, Germany, Chile, Mexico, Ireland, Turkey, and France. The number of Chinese gold-seekers was particularly large. The influx of Chinese and other foreign laborers led to ethnic tensions in California, especially as gold grew scarce. Despite the ethnic tensions it engendered, the Gold Rush forever changed the demographic face of California by making it one of the most ethnically diverse states in the Union by the middle of the 19th century.


This Day in History (4-Nov-2008) – Barack Obama elected as America’s first black president

Barack Obama was born to a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya. He worked his way through school—Occidental College in Los Angeles, Columbia University in New York, and later, Harvard Law School—with the help of scholarship money and student loans. At the age of 24, Barack Obama moved to Chicago, where he got his start in community organizing on the city’s South Side, working to help rebuild communities devastated by the closure of local steel plants. Obama called that time in his life “the best education I ever had, better than anything I got at Harvard Law School.”  He launched his political career in 1996, when he was elected to the Illinois State Senate. He was re-elected to that post in 1998 and 2000. In March 2004, he shot to national prominence by winning the U.S. Senate Democratic primary in Illinois, and that July he gained further exposure when he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, which included his eloquent call for unity among “red” (Republican) and “blue” (Democratic) states. That November, Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate in a landslide. On February 10, 2007, in Springfield, Illinois, Obama officially announced his candidacy for president.

During the general-election campaign, as in the primaries, Obama’s team worked to build a following at the grassroots level and used what his supporters viewed as the candidate’s natural charisma, unique life story and inspiring message of hope and change to draw large crowds to his public appearances, both in the United States and on a campaign trip abroad. His team also worked to bring new voters–many of them young or black, both demographics they believed favored Obama–to become involved in the election. Additionally, the campaign was notable for its unprecedented use of the Internet for organizing constituents and fundraising. According to The Washington Post: “3 million donors made a total of 6.5 million donations online adding up to more than $500 million. Of those 6.5 million donations, 6 million were in increments of $100 or less.” On November 4, more than 69.4 million Americans cast their vote for Obama, while some 59.9 million voters chose McCain. Obama became the 44th U.S. president, and the first African American elected to the White House.


This Day in History (23-Oct-1946) – The United Nations General Assembly Convenes in New York for the First Time

As the world recovered from World War II, officials from all over the planet convened in Flushing in the New York City borough of Queens on October 23, 1946. The United Nations General Assembly, meeting for the first time in the metropolis that would later house its headquarters, has since become the primary international body for humanitarian aid — though it has fallen short of being the peacemaker many hoped it would be due to Cold War divisions and diverse political interests.

The idea for an organization to help mete out peace first arose during the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. With leadership in many nations reluctant to commit to the enforcement of League decisions, including the United States Congress, the organization quickly fell apart by the middle of the 1930s. As battles raged on multiple fronts during World War II, leaders from the United States, Soviet Union and Great Britain began a series of discussions about creating a more secure international organization in 1943 at meetings in Moscow and Tehran. The slow process for determining how the group would function, which would later grow to include a wide variety of governments and non-government organizations, came to a head when the United Nations Conference on International Organization met in San Francisco during April 1945.  With 51 founding members, the organization has grown to include 193 nations today.

Due to its unique international character, and the powers vested in its founding Charter, the Organization can take action on a wide range of issues, and provide a forum for its 193 Member States to express their views, through the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and other bodies and committees. The work of the United Nations reaches every corner of the globe. UNO is best known for peacekeeping, peacebuilding, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance, in order to achieve its goals and coordinate efforts for a safer world for this and future generations. There are currently more than 100,000 UN peacekeepers in 16 peace operations.


This Day in History (7-Sep-1813) – United States nicknamed Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam is the culmination of a tradition of representative male icons in America which can be traced well back into colonial times. The actual figure of Uncle Sam, however, dates from the War of 1812. Previous icons had been geographically specific, centering most often on the New England area. The War of 1812 sparked a renewed interest in national identity which had faded since the revolutionary war.

The story goes as one Samuel Wilson settled in the town of Troy, New York was known locally as “Uncle” Sam.  He later began the firm of E. & S. Wilson. It was through this firm, and the war contracts they acquired in 1812, that Sam gained his notoriety. One such contract was for the supply of meats to the Army. Wilson stamped the barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers began referring to the grub as “Uncle Sam’s.” The local newspaper picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. federal government. In the late 1860s and 1870s, political cartoonist Thomas Nast began popularizing the image of Uncle Sam. Nast continued to evolve the image, eventually giving Sam the white beard and stars-and-stripes suit that are associated with the character today. By the early twentieth century, there was little physical resemblance left between Samuel Wilson and Uncle Sam. As a symbol of an ever-changing nation, Uncle Sam had gone through many incarnations.

Perhaps the most famous image of Uncle Sam was created by artist James Montgomery Flagg.  In Flagg’s version, Uncle Sam wears a tall top hat and blue jacket and is pointing straight ahead at the viewer. During World War I, this portrait of Sam with the words “I Want You For The U.S. Army” was used as a recruiting poster. The image, which became immensely popular, was first used on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly in July 1916 with the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” The poster was widely distributed and has subsequently been re-used numerous times with different captions. Troy, New York, the town where Wilson lived, calls itself “The Home of Uncle Sam.”



This Day in History (4-Sep-1833) – Ten-year-old Barney Flaherty was the first newspaper boy in New York

The Museum of the City of New York released the photo in 2012; from their extensive archives, showing a former fixture of New York City life, which got its start on this date in 1833 with an unsung Irish American media pioneer.  The photo’s caption read: “Today in 1833 a 10 year old boy named Barney Flaherty became the first newsboy after responding to an ad in the New York Sun. Newsboys became a prominent fixture in NYC life well into the 20th century. This fellow below was photographed ca. 1890 by Jacob Riis.” The ad in the newspaper read -“To the Unemployed a number of steady men can find employment by vending this paper.” The only job requirement, was that he had to show that he could throw a newspaper into the bushes.

Barney Flaherty was most likely an entrepreneur as well, because newsboys were not newspaper employees but instead free agents who bought their papers at a discount and were unable to return unsold copies. It made for a very rugged life and a sole means of support for many thousands of homeless. Barney couldn’t have realized it at the time, but he paved the way for thousands of newsboys after him in the 19th century.It was a gritty, unglamourous way to make a living: “The majority of these boys live at home, but many of them are wanderers in the streets, selling papers at times, and begging at others,” writes James McCabe in 1873’s  Lights and Shadows of New York Life.

New York City’s newsboys mounted several strikes; the Newsboys Strike of 1899 forced a change in the way leading papers compensated their streetwise sales agents.

The day is marked as ‘Newspaper Carrier Day’. Now, few kids deliver papers anymore except in small towns. But the “Carrier Day” tradition lives. This job is now largely held by adults.



This Day in History (28-Jul-1945) – Plane crashes into Empire State Building

The B-25 Mitchell bomber, with Colonel William Smith as a pilot and two more personnel aboard, was flying from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to LaGuardia Airport in New York City. As it came into the metropolitan area on that Saturday morning, the fog was particularly thick. Air-traffic controllers instructed the plane to fly to Newark Airport instead. The last transmission from the LaGuardia tower to the plane was a foreboding warning: “From where I’m sitting, I can’t see the top of the Empire State Building.” Confronted with dense fog, pilot dropped the bomber low to regain visibility, where Smith found himself in the middle of Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers. At first, the bomber was headed directly for the New York Central Building but at the last minute, Smith was able to bank west and miss it. Unfortunately, this put him in line for another skyscraper. Smith managed to miss several skyscrapers until he was headed for the Empire State Building. At the last minute, Smith tried to get the bomber to climb and twist away, but it was too late. At 9:49 a.m., the ten-ton, B-25 bomber smashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, near the 79th floor.

Upon impact, the plane’s jet fuel exploded, filling the interior of the building with flames all the way down to the 75th floor and sending flames out of the hole the plane had ripped open in the building’s side. One engine from the plane went straight through the building and landed in a penthouse apartment across the street. Other plane parts ended up embedded in and on top of nearby buildings. The other engine snapped an elevator cable while at least one woman was riding in the elevator car. The emergency auto brake saved the woman from crashing to the bottom, but the engine fell down the shaft and landed on top of it. Quick-thinking rescuers pulled the woman from the elevator, saving her life. Since it was a Saturday, fewer workers than normal were in the building. Only 11 people in the building were killed, some suffering burns from the fiery jet fuel and others after being thrown out of the building. The three people on the plane were also killed. An 18 foot by 20 foot hole was left in the side of the Empire State Building.  However its structural integrity was not affected.