September 21st 1866: H.G. Wells born
On this day in 1866, the English science fiction writer H.G. Wells was born in Bromley, Kent. Sometimes called ‘the father of science fiction’, Wells is best known for his works ‘The War of the Worlds’ and ‘The Time Machine’. Wells was also a socialist and a pacifist, and his political views colored much of his later work. In 1938 Orson Welles broadcast his radio play of ‘The War of the Worlds’ as a series of news bulletins which led many Americans to fear a Martian invasion. H.G. Wells died in London in 1946 aged 79.
September 19th 1970: First Glastonbury
On this day in 1970 the first Glastonbury Festival was held in Michael Eavis’s farm in Glastonbury, England. The festival was inspired by the hippie and free festival movements. Eavis decided to host his own festival after seeing Led Zeppelin at the Bath Blues Festival, hoping the event would help him pay off his mortgage. Tickets to the first Glastonbury cost £1 and 1,500 tickets were sold to the festival which was headlined by T-Rex, who replaced original headliners The Kinks. Glastonbury remains one of the world’s most famous music festivals and has greatly expanded since 1970, making it one of the UK’s biggest festivals.
September 17th 1787: US Constitution signed
On this day in 1787, the United States Constitution was signed in Philadelphia. The document was thus adopted by the Constitutional Convention, which included George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin. It was later ratified by the states and came into effect on March 4th 1789. The Constitution sets out the rules and principles that govern America to this day, and defines the powers of the three branches of federal government and the states. The first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791 and established basic rights of citizens, including freedom and speech and religion. The Constitution has since been amended 17 times, giving a total of 27 amendments. America’s is the oldest written constitution still used today.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”
September 15th 1254: Marco Polo born
On this day in 1254, Marco Polo was born in Venice, Italy to a wealthy merchant family. Polo’s father and uncle spent much of his childhood traveling around Asia, especially China where they found favour at the court of Mongol leader Kublai Khan. In 1271, when he was seventeen, Marco left with his father and uncle on their return trip to China. On this journey they visited the Middle East and crossed the Gobi Desert, eventually arriving at Khan’s court where they stayed for 17 years. In this time Marco became Khan’s special envoy, and was sent to areas never before explored by Europeans, including India, Burma and Tibet. Their eventual journey home was arduous, with many of their party perishing on the way. The family also faced hardship when they returned to Venice in 1295, for they struggled to re-enter Venetian society and culture. Marco Polo became involved in Venice’s war with Genoa, and was captured and imprisoned by the Genoese. While imprisoned he told the stories of his travels to his fellow prisoner Rustichello, who wrote them down and eventually published them in The Travels of Marco Polo. Polo’s stories became widely famous and popular, with the fantastic descriptions of foreign places like China and India astonishing contemporary Europeans, many of whom took Polo’s words to be fiction; Polo asserted until his death that it was all true. Marco Polo died in Venice in 1324 aged 69 but his legacy lived on as his unprecedentedly rich and detailed descriptions of foreign lands inspired later generations to explore the world, including Christopher Columbus who brought a copy of Polo’s book on his journey to America in 1492.
September 13th 1814: Defense of Fort McHenry
On this day in 1814, the United States army forces at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland successfully defended the city from the British during the War of 1812. British warships bombarded the fort for over 24 hours, but the American defense held fast and by the morning of September 14th the British were forced to retreat due to lack of ammunition. The event, particularly the sight of an American flag being raised over the fort at dawn in celebration of victory, inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem called ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. Key was a witness to the battle because he was aboard a British ship having been trying to negotiate the release of an American prisoner. The poem was eventually set to the tune of a well-known 18th century British song and the anthem soon became a popular patriotic American song, and was commonly used by the armed forces. On March 3rd 1931, at the urging of many patriotic organisations, a congressional resolution was signed by President Hoover which affirmed 'The Star-Spangled Banner' as America’s official national anthem.
200 years ago today
September 11th 2001: 9/11 Terror Attacks
On this day in 2001, thirteen years ago today, two hijacked planes were crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and another into the Pentagon building in Virginia. The Twin Towers collapsed and part of the Pentagon was badly damaged. A fourth plane was intended to strike the US Capitol Building in Washington DC but its passengers seized control from the hijackers and crashed the plane into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died on this terrible day and thousands more injured in the attacks which sent shockwaves around the world. The attacks were planned and carried out by members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda, and masterminded by Osama bin Laden, who was since been found and killed by US forces. The aftermath of the tragedy prompted greater focus on national security both in the US and abroad and contributed to the invasions of, and subsequent wars in, Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, thirteen years on, we remember the thousands of people who lost their lives on 9/11.
"America is under attack"
- White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card telling President Bush about the attacks
September 9th 1976: Chairman Mao dies
On this day in 1976, the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong died just after midnight at the age of 82. Born in 1893 into a Chinese farming family, the young Mao quickly developed an interest in Marxist and Communist ideology. After World War Two, a civil war broke out in China between the ruling nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek and the communists he had tried to purge. Despite having the support of many Western nations like the United States, Chiang Kai-shek was defeated and Mao, who had led the communists, was victorious. On October 1st 1949 Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Mao then ruled the country as Chairman of the Communist Party, and under his rule any opposition to the communist regime was ruthlessly suppressed. Millions died under his rule, some from his disastrous policies like the ‘Great Leap Forward’ of 1958 which tried to rapidly transform China from an agrarian to industrial economy and triggered a deadly famine. Millions more died under his ruthless persecution, especially after the ‘Cultural Revolution’ of 1966 which aimed to purge counter-revolutionary forces in Chinese society. Overall Mao’s rule is believed to have caused the deaths of 40 to 70 million people. In his last years Mao worked to ease tensions with Western powers and met with US President Nixon in China in 1972. Mao Zedong died in 1976 following a period of deteriorating health; his body lay in state at the Great Hall of the People for ten days and his embalmed body remains on display in his mausoleum in Beijing.
September 7th 1978: Keith Moon dies
On this day in 1978, Keith Moon, the drummer for the English rock band The Who died aged 32. He joined The Who in 1964 when they were just starting up and was integral to their rise to fame. Their most famous songs include ‘My Generation’, ‘Pinball Wizard’ and ‘Behind Blue Eyes’. Moon remained in the band until his death. He was well known for his self-destructive behaviour and after a number of personal tragedies became an alcoholic. He died in London from an overdose of a drug designed to curb alcohol abuse. In 2011 Rolling Stone readers voted him the second greatest drummer of all time.
September 20th 1973: ‘Battle of the Sexes’
On this day in 1973 female tennis player Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ tennis match. She defeated him 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 before a crowd of over 30,000. The match, the second in the ‘Battle of the Sexes’, took place in Houston, Texas. King was the No. 2 female tennis player and Riggs a retired male Wimbledon champion. Riggs had defeated Margaret Court in the first match and proceeded to taunt female players as he was expected to win. King challenged him to a nationally televised match and defeated him, thus cementing her status in the history of tennis.
September 18th 1837: Tiffany and Co. founded
On this day in 1837, the jewelry retailer Tiffany and Co. was founded by Charles Lewis Tiffany and Teddy Young in New York City. The first Tiffany store was marketed as a “stationery and fancy goods emporium”. In 1862 during the American Civil War, Tiffany supplied the Union army with swords, flags and surgical equipment. From then onwards Tiffany continued to make a name for itself as a high quality retailer, especially after winning accolades at the 1867 Paris World’s Fair. Due to its popularity the company received several notable commissions, including designing the New York Yankee’s ‘NY’ logo, revising the Seal of the United States in 1885 and the Navy’s Medal of Honor in 1919, and designing the White House china in 1968. Tiffany is today best known for its diamond jewelry and is based at 727 Fifth Avenue, New York City.
September 16th 1620: Mayflower sets sail
On this day in 1620, the Mayflower started her voyage from Great Britain to North America. She carried 102 passengers, many of whom were pilgrims who later settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. By November they sighted land and landed at Cape Cod and proceeded the settle there, though around half died during the first harsh winter in the New World. The site where the Mayflower pilgrims landed at Plymouth is marked today by ‘Plymouth Rock’. The Mayflower left for England the next April. The journey of the Mayflower is considered a major and symbolic event in American history as the ship carried the some of the first European settlers to America’s shores.
September 14th 1913: Jacobo Arbenz born
On this day in 1913, the future President of Guatemala Jacobo Arbenz was born in the city of Quetzaltenango. Arbenz first became involved in left-wing politics while in the army, where he witnessed first-hand the brutality of the US-backed Guatemalan dictator Jorge Ubico. In 1944 Ubico was forced out of office and his equally undemocratic successor was soon also removed from power; Arbenz was one of the military figures who supported this revolt. Arbenz was appointed Minister of Defense in the newly elected regime of Juan José Arévalo and was elected President himself by a solid margin in 1950. Upon assuming office in 1951, Arbenz continued his predecessor’s popular democratic and social reform policies, with labour and land reform becoming the focus of his administration. This caused a division between the Arbenz government and the US-based United Fruit Company which was the largest landowner in Guatemala at the time. These policies which threatened US investments and also the Cold War-era fears that Arbenz’s government was too close to communist forces, led to a CIA-backed coup that ousted Arbenz in 1954. He was succeeded by the military junta of Carlos Castillo Armas who immediately undid the reforms of the Arbenz government. Jacobo Arbenz lived in various different countries after his exile, eventually settling in Mexico where he died in 1971 aged 57.
September 12th 1977: Steve Biko dies
On this day in 1977, South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Bantu Biko died aged 30 while in police custody in Pretoria. Biko founded the Black Consciousness Movement and coined the famous phrase “black is beautiful”. He had been a target long before his arrest on August 18th 1977, having been censored and ‘banned’ by the apartheid government in 1973 and had his movement in his country restricted. Upon his arrest, Biko was brutally tortured and beaten during police interrogations which lasted almost 24 hours, eventually dying from head injuries on September 12th. The police claimed he died due to a hunger strike, but it was clear his death was caused by police violence after his arrest. The authorities’ flimsy protestations of innocence fooled very few, and the truth about Biko’s death caused widespread outrage. His killers were never bought to justice, but due to his high-profile Biko’s family were able to secure financial compensation from the South African government. He was a hero of black South Africans for his activism, but since his tragic death Steve Biko has also become a martyr for his cause and a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement.
"They had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid"
- Nelson Mandela on Steve Biko
September 10th 1167: Empress Matilda dies
On this day in 1167 the Empress Matilda of England (also known as Empress Maude) died aged 65 in Rouen, France. Matilda was the daughter of King Henry I of England and his sole heir, as her younger brother William died in 1120 when the ship he was on sank. Upon her father’s death however, the throne was seized by her cousin Stephen. The two parties battled for the throne, leading to years of unrest and civil war in England known as ‘The Anarchy’. Whilst she did briefly manage to claim the throne in 1141 she was never crowned and did not consolidate her rule and thus many do not consider her a true British monarch. Matilda retired to France towards the end of her life, after her son Henry succeeded King Stephen in 1154. The story of her struggle with Stephen is the basis of the 1989 novel The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.
September 8th 1974: Ford pardons Nixon
On this day in 1974, US President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed during his presidency. This came after Nixon’s resignation over his administration’s involvement in illegal activities, including wiretapping, the cumulative revelations of which became known as the Watergate scandal. Ford, Nixon’s Vice-President, became President on August 9th upon Nixon’s resignation, which was a first of its kind for a President of the United States. Now President Ford pardoned Nixon in order to help the nation move on from the shameful events of Watergate, but the decision was controversial as many wanted Nixon to be made accountable. Ford was defeated by Democrat Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election, and has the distinction of never being elected as either Vice-President or President.
40 years ago today