July 21st 1969: Man walks on the Moon
On this day in 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon. The Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon on July 20th at 20:18 UTC. and Armstrong’s boot hit the surface of the Moon at 02:56 UTC the next day. Aldrin soon joined Armstrong and the pair planted the flag of the United States on the lunar surface, and they received a brief phone call from US President Richard Nixon. The moon landing was broadcast live, reaching an estimated global audience of 450 million. The astronauts returned safely to Earth on July 24th where they were met by the President and celebrated globally. The landing was a major victory for the United States in the Cold War space race with Soviet Russia and fulfilled the goal put in place by the late President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
"That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind"
July 19th 64: Great Fire of Rome begins
On this day in 64 AD, a fire began in the merchant area of Rome and soon swept across the rest of the famed city. The fire burned for six days, and destroyed much of Rome in the process. Some have claimed, though it is debated, that the infamously insane Emperor Nero failed to do anything to control the fire and merely ‘fiddled while Rome burned’. It has not yet been determined whether the fire was caused by accident or arson, but it has been suggested that Nero began the fire himself and made Christians a scapegoat. Indeed, after the fire Nero did take the opportunity to blame the devastation on Rome’s Christian population, thus beginning one of the most intense and prolonged persecutions of the period - the so-called Neronian persecution. However, modern scholars have begun to doubt this old story of Nero’s role in starting the fire.
July 17th 1790: Adam Smith dies
On this day in 1790 the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith died in Edinburgh aged 67. He is best known for his 1776 work ‘The Wealth of Nations’, a treatise on economics which has earned him the title of father of modern economics. He is also remembered as one of the first thinkers to expound the principles of what is now referred to as ‘capitalism’; an economy based upon rational self-interest and a competitive free market in which the ‘invisible hand’ of the market should be trusted. Having enjoyed an illustrious career as a teacher and famed thinker, Smith died at an Edinburgh hospital after a long illness.
July 15th 1979: Carter’s ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech
On this day in 1979, the US President Jimmy Carter made a televised address that has become known as the ‘crisis of confidence’ or ‘malaise’ speech. The address came during an energy crisis which had its roots in the 1973 oil embargo, which led Carter to conclude that America needed a focus on conserving energy and the use of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Carter also encouraged people to be more responsible in their use of gas and electric. It was in this environment that the President made his July 15th speech, which he had spent many weeks preparing at Camp David. He identified a ‘crisis of confidence’ throughout the nation in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. The reception to the speech was initially favourable, but came to be seen as a scolding lecture where Carter was blaming the American people for the crisis in his emphasis on over consumption and consumerism. The address has since become identified with the general period of ‘malaise’ that characterised America in the 1970s, with a flagging economy, uninspiring politicians, heightened racial tensions and seemingly endless war; however Carter never actually used the word in his speech. Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid the year after this speech in 1980 against charismatic Republican challenger Ronald Reagan.
July 13th 1985: Live Aid
On this day in 1985, the Live Aid benefit concerts took place at Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organised the concerts to raise money to provide aid for victims of the famine in Ethiopia. Notable artists such as Queen, Phil Collins, David Bowie, U2, The Who, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney performed. The London concert drew 72,000 and the Philadelphia concert was attended by 100,000. The global audience watching the live broadcast is estimated to have been at around 1.9 billion. The event was a great success, ultimately raising around £150m.
July 11th 1960: To Kill a Mockingbird published
On this day in 1960, the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee was published by J.B Lippincott & Co. The novel tells the story of the trial of a young African-American man in Alabama in the 1930s, and is told from the perspective of the daughter of the defendant’s lawyer, Scout Finch. Lee was partly inspired by events she recalled from her own childhood growing up in Alabama in the days of Jim Crow segregation. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was released during a turbulent time for American race relations, as the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement was beginning to get underway with sit-ins and Freedom Rides in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The novel was originally going to be called ‘Atticus’ for Scout’s father and the moral centre of the story, but was renamed for one of Atticus’s iconic lines. The novel was an immediate success, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. In 1962 it was adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck and featuring the film debut of Robert Duvall as the elusive Boo Radley. Harper Lee never published another novel and remains reclusive from the press, though she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. The influence of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has never faded in the 54 years since its release, and is a favourite of many for its warmth and humour while tackling some of the most troubling issues of its day.
"Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird"
July 9th 1877: First Wimbledon began
On this day in 1877, the Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament took place for the first time. The competition is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and has been held in London annually since 1877. The first championship only included a men’s singles competition and only saw 22 competitors; in 1877 Spencer Gore became the first Wimbledon champion. It is often considered the most prestigious tennis competition in the world. In 2013, the women’s champion was Marion Bartoli of France and the men’s champion was Andy Murray. Murray was the first male British champion in 77 years. This year’s men’s final winner was Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and the female champion was Czech Petra Kvitova.
July 7th 2005: London bombings
On this day in 2005, a series of suicide bombings took place in the British capital city of London. The attacks were co-ordinated in order to achieve the most damage by striking the city’s busy public transport system at the end of the morning rush hour. At around 8.50am three bombs detonated on Underground trains: one near Liverpool Street station, one near Edgware Road and a third travelling between King’s Cross and Russell Square. The fourth explosion targetted one of London’s iconic red double decker buses and occurred at around 9.50am on a bus in Tavistock Square near King’s Cross. The four bombers responsible were Mohammad Sidique Khan (believed to be the ringleader), Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay and Shehzad Tanweer. Each used homemade bombs they carried in their rucksacks. Along with the four perpetrators, the attacks killed 52 civilians and injured over 700. The attacks came during the Iraq War in which Britain, alongside the United States, took a leading role. The bombers were radical Muslims and considered the war in the Middle East oppression of their people. They also admired the head of terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda Osama bin-Laden, who was subject of an international search effort in order to bring him to justice for his role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City. The London bombings shook the Western world as well as Britain itself, for whom the 7/7 attacks were the country’s first suicide attack (previous terrorist attacks included the 1988 Lockerbie bombing). The incident also raised concerns over domestic terrorism (as all four attackers were British citizens, not foreign agents) and London’s security, especially as they came a day after London won its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games.
"I don’t know what heaven looks like but I have just seen hell"
- a young policeman at the Russell Square scene
July 20th 1944: Assassination attempt on Hitler
On this day in 1944, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler narrowly survived an assassination attempt in what became known as the July 1944 bomb plot. The plot was led by German Army Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and several military figures who also planned a military coup d’etat after the assassination. The plan was to place a bomb under the table in a briefcase in a conference room in Hitler’s Prussian Wolf’s Lair headquarters. However one of the attendees at the meeting moved the case behind the table leg with his foot, thus deflecting the blast from Hitler, though the blast did kill four in attendance. The Gestapo arrested at least 7000 people in response to the attack and almost 5000 were executed.
July 18th 1969: Chappaquiddick incident
On this day in 1969, after a party on Chappaquiddick island, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) drove his car off a bridge, killing his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy, brother of late President John F. Kennedy, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene and admitted he failed to report the incident to the authorities until fishermen found the car and Kopechne’s body. He denied that he was under the influence of alcohol, but whilst negligent driving was considered the cause of Kopechne’s death Kennedy was not prosecuted. Chappaquiddick continued to haunt Kennedy’s political career, and weakened his hopes of a run for the office of President of the United States. Some have taken the incident as another indication of a ‘Kennedy curse’.
On this day in 1999 John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and sister-in-law Lauren Bessette died in a plane crash. JFK Jr., the son of the late President, was flying the aircraft when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The crash was supposedly due to pilot error. They were reported missing on July 16th and their bodies were found on the ocean floor on July 21st. The tragic death of the assassinated President’s son at age 38, who captured the heart of the nation when he saluted his father’s coffin, fueled the idea of a ‘Kennedy curse’ on the family.
"We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side.But, like his father, he had every gift but length of years”
- John’s uncle Senator Edward Kennedy at his memorial service
July 14th 1789: Storming of the Bastille
On this day in 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille fortress in Paris. This event came towards the beginning of the French Revolution which led to the toppling of the monarchy and execution of King Louis XVI. The dramatic events at the Bastille were precipitated by the King’s refusal to approve the reorganisation of the Estates-General, a general assembly designed to represent the clergy, the nobles and the common people. In response to fears of a counter-attack by the King’s forces, revolutionaries planed to seize the weapons in the Bastille. The prison was lightly guarded and the revolutionaries were able to force their way through and the ensuing violence led to the surrender of the defenders. The Bastille was where the French monarchy held their opponents, including figures like the mysterious ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ from 1670 to 1703, and so the mob also released the seven prisoners held there. The Bastille had represented ironclad royal authority and its fall was a major turning point in the revolution. After the Bastille the revolution escalated, with the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and abolition of feudalism in August. A republic was declared in 1792 and the King was beheaded in January of the next year. For its prominent role in the French Revolution, this day is commemorated in France as a public holiday, Bastille Day.
"Is this a revolt?"
"No Majesty, this is a revolution”
- supposed conversation between Louis XVI and adviser Duc de Liancourt after the storming of the Bastille
July 12th 1543: Henry VIII marries Catherine Parr
On this day in 1543, King Henry VIII of England married his sixth and last wife Catherine Parr at Hampton Court Palace. Henry’s previous wife, Catherine Howard, had been executed on 13th February 1542 on charges of adultery. Of his other four previous wives, he divorced two (Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves), one was executed (Anne Boleyn) and Jane Seymour died of natural causes. Catherine Parr helped reconcile the King with his daughters and assisted in restoring them to the line of succession. Henry died on 28th January 1547, and thus his last wife outlived him.
July 10th 1925: Scopes Monkey Trial begins
On this day in 1925 the trial of John Scopes, who stood accused of teaching evolution and thus violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, began. The trial drew the attention of the nation, as to many it seemed as if Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution itself was on trial, especially its compatibility with religion (namely Christian Creationism). The most famous lawyers of the day argued the case, with former Democratic nominee for President William Jennings Bryan prosecuting and Clarence Darrow defending. Scopes was ultimately found guilty of teaching evolution, but was let free on a technicality. The trial was one of the most dramatic and famous in history and has since become synonymous with religious backlash against scientific progress.
July 8th 1839: John D. Rockefeller born
On this day in 1839 the American industrialist John D. Rockefeller was born in Richford, New York. Even in his youth, Rockefeller displayed an aptitude for numbers and an entrepreneurial spirit, as he began selling food and other items to his neighbours. Rockefeller went on to establish the Standard Oil Company and became the richest man in the world, perhaps even the richest in history. Rockefeller used much of his wealth for philanthropy, creating many foundations which researched medicine, science and education and founding universities. He is often held as a notable success story of the capitalistic American Dream as Rockefeller rose from humble beginnings to become the first American to own a fortune of over one billion dollars. Rockefeller died in 1937 aged 97. His success established the Rockefeller family as one of the wealthiest and most influential in America, perhaps best known for their control of Chase Manhattan Bank. Even after his death his legacy continued in his relatives and descendants and his name became imbedded in American culture with the building of Rockefeller Centre in New York City in the 1930s.