Notes of American History

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October 16, 1923
Walt Disney & his brother Roy found the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in Hollywood. The studio, now known as the Walt Disney Company, has had an oversized impact on the entertainment industry & is now one of the largest media companies in the world.

A talented artist from a young age, Walt Disney drew cartoons for various publications & became interested in cel animation while working for the Kansas City Film Ad Company. After his Laugh-O-Gram Studio went bankrupt in 1923, Walt moved to Los Angeles, where Roy was recovering from tuberculosis. While there, he finally sold a short film produced by Laugh-O-Gram, Alice’s Wonderland, which featured child actress Virginia Davis interacting with animated characters, & signed a contract to make 6 more such films. Film distributor Margaret J. Winkler of M.J. Winkler Productions contacted Disney with plans to distribute a whole series of Alice Comedies purchased for $1,500/reel with Disney as a production partner. In order to produce the series, the brothers founded their company & persuaded both Virginia Davis, who played Alice, & their collaborating animator Ubbe Iwerks to join them in Hollywood.

After the success of the Alice Comedies & a series based on a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Disney began work on his most famous creation. (Universal Studios owned Oswald, so Disney only made a few hundred dollars. Disney completed 27 Oswald shorts before losing the contract in March 1928, when Winkler head Charles Mintz hired away 4 of Disney's primary animators to start his own animation studio.) With the 1928 release of Steamboat Willie, the world was introduced to Mickey Mouse. The character would go on to become one of, if not the most recognizable cartoons in history. The popularity of the Mickey Mouse shorts convinced Disney his studio could produce a feature film, which he began to do in 1934. The project, which some dubbed “Disney’s Folly,” went 400% over budget & required over 300 animators, artists, & assistants, but Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a smash hit when it debuted just before Christmas 1937.

Since then, the Walt Disney Company has produced dozens of groundbreaking & acclaimed films. It has evolved into a holding company for all manner of media & entertainment properties, opening theme parks across the world beginning in 1955 & acquiring dozens of companies in the '90s & 2000s. Disney now owns & operates ABC, ESPN, Pixar, Marvel Studios & Lucasfilm. What began with a handful of animators producing short children’s cartoons is today one of the most iconic companies in the world. Disney original cartoons & feature films constitute some of the most popular & enduring entries in the American canon.
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The building in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz which was home to Disney Studios from 1923 to 1926.
 

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October 17, 1931
Gangster Al Capone is sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion & fined $80,000, signaling the downfall of one of the most notorious criminals of the 1920s & 30s.

Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, in 1899 to Italian immigrants. He was expelled from school at 14, joined a gang & earned his nickname “Scarface” after being sliced across the cheek during a fight. (Capone was dubbed "Scarface" by the press, a nickname he intensely disliked. Criminal associates referred to the mob boss as "the Big Fellow," while friends knew him as "Snorky," a slang term that meant spiffy.) By 1920, Capone had moved to Chicago, where he was soon helping to run crime boss Johnny Torrio’s illegal enterprises, which included alcohol-smuggling, gambling & prostitution. Torrio retired in 1925 after an attempt on his life & Capone, known for his cunning & brutality, was put in charge of the organization.

Prohibition, which outlawed the brewing & distribution of alcohol & lasted from 1920 to 1933, proved extremely lucrative for bootleggers & gangsters like Capone, who raked in millions from his underworld activities. Capone was at the top of the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list by 1930, but he avoided long stints in jail until 1931 by bribing city officials, intimidating witnesses & maintaining various hideouts. He became Chicago’s crime kingpin by wiping out his competitors through a series of gangland battles & slayings, including the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, when Capone’s men gunned down 7 rivals. This event helped raise Capone’s notoriety to a national level.

By some estimates, his crime syndicate pulled in around $100 million/year, the largest portion from bootlegging, followed by gambling, prostitution, racketeering & other illicit activities. A flashy dresser who liked chatting with reporters & became an international celebrity, Capone didn’t apologize for the way he made his living. He claimed to be doing a “public service” for Chicagoans, stating: “Ninety percent of the people of Cook County drink & gamble & my offense has been to furnish them with those amusements.”

Among Capone’s enemies was federal agent Elliot Ness, who led a team of officers known as “The Untouchables” because they couldn’t be corrupted. Ness & his men routinely broke up Capone’s bootlegging businesses, but it was tax-evasion charges that finally stuck & landed Capone in prison in 1931. Capone began serving his time at the US Penitentiary in Atlanta, but amid accusations that he was manipulating the system & receiving cushy treatment, he was transferred to the maximum-security lockup at Alcatraz Island, in San Francisco Bay. He got out early in 1939 for good behavior, after spending his final year in prison in a hospital, suffering from syphilis.

Capone then underwent several months of treatment for syphilis at a Baltimore hospital. Afterward, the famous gangster spent much of his time out of the public spotlight, fishing & playing cards at the Palm Island, FL, mansion he’d owned since 1928. In the 1940s, he became one of the 1st civilians to receive penicillin for syphilis, although it was too late to cure him. In Jan. 1947, the 48-year-old Capone suffered a stroke then came down with pneumonia; he died at his Florida home on Jan. 25. Capone was buried at Chicago’s Mount Olivet Cemetery, near the graves of his father & one of his brothers. In 1950, the Capone family had the remains of the 3 men moved to Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, IL.
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October 18, 1933
The American philosopher-inventor R. Buckminster Fuller applies for a patent for his Dymaxion Car. The Dymaxion—the word itself was another Fuller invention, a combination of “dynamic,” “maximum,” & “ion”—looked & drove like no vehicle anyone had ever seen. It was a 3-wheeled, 20-ft-long, pod-shaped automobile that could carry 11 passengers & travel as fast as 120 mph. It got 30 mpg, could U-turn in a distance equal to its length & could parallel park just by pivoting its wheels toward the curb & zipping sideways into its parking space. It was stylish, efficient & eccentric & it attracted a great deal of attention: Celebrities wanted to ride in it & rich men wanted to invest in it. But in the same month that Fuller applied for his patent, one of his prototype Dymaxions crashed, killing the driver & alarming investors so much that they withdrew their money from the project.

When Fuller first sketched the Dymaxion Car in 1927, it was a half-car, half-airplane—when it got going fast enough, its wings were supposed to inflate—called the “4D Transport.” In 1932, the sculptor Isamu Naguchi helped the inventor with his final design: a long teardrop-shaped chassis with 2 wheels in front & a 3rd in back that could lift off the ground. In practice, this didn’t turn out to be a great idea: As the vehicle picked up speed (theoretically in preparation for takeoff) & the 3rd wheel bounced off the ground, it became nearly impossible for the driver to control the car. In fact, many people blamed this handling problem for the fatal crash of the prototype car, even though an investigation revealed that a car full of sightseers had actually caused the accident by hurtling into the Dymaxion’s lane.

Many elements of the Dymaxion Car’s design—its streamlined shape, its fuel efficiency—have inspired later generations of automakers, but Fuller himself was probably best known for another of his inventions: the geodesic dome. Geodesic domes are built using a pattern of self-bracing triangles. As a result, perhaps unlike the Dymaxion Car, they are incredibly strong & stable—in fact, as one historian writes, “they have proved to be the strongest structures ever devised.”
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October 19, 1864
Union Gen. Philip Sheridan averts a near disaster in the Shenandoah Valley when he rallies his troops after a surprise attack by Confederate Gen. Jubal Early & scores a major victory that almost destroys Early’s army at the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia (aka, the Battle of Belle Grove).

Through the summer of 1864, Early moved his army with impunity around the Shenandoah & its surrounding area. Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant dispatched Sheridan to take care of Early’s army, which was distracting Grant & preventing him from applying the full pressure of the Union army against the forces of Robert E. Lee around Petersburg, VA. Sheridan performed his task well, defeating Early at Winchester, Fischer’s Hill, & Tom’s Brook. By mid-October, Sheridan’s troops were busy destroying the rich harvest of the Shenandoah to deny food supplies to Lee’s army.

Sheridan departed for a military conference in Washington, DC, & before he returned, Early launched a devastating attack on the surprised Yankees at Cedar Creek. Throughout the morning of Oct. 19, the Rebels drove the Union troops back more than 3 miles. By late morning, Early slowed the attack despite the urgings of Gen. John B. Gordon, who insisted that Early press his assault to achieve total destruction of the Federal force. Returning from Washington, Sheridan heard the battle from Winchester & began a furious, 12-mile ride to the front. Along the way, he met his retreating soldiers & turned them back toward the battle for a counterattack. This effort, which was later called Sheridan’s Ride, became legendary.

After Early cut off his assault, an eerie silence settled on the battlefield. Sheridan orchestrated his counterattack by late afternoon, & it was devastating. The Yankees tore through the Confederate lines & sent Early’s army in retreat. Sheridan lost 5,500 out of 31,000 troops. Early lost almost 3,000 of the 22,000 men in his command, but nearly all of the Confederate artillery was captured in the Union counterattack. It was the last major battle in the Shenandoah campaign, & Early was never able to mount a serious offensive again. At the conclusion of this battle, the final Confederate invasion of the North was effectively ended. The Confederacy was never again able to threaten Washington, DC through the Shenandoah Valley, nor protect one of its key economic bases in Virginia. The stunning Union victory aided the reelection of Abraham Lincoln & won Sheridan lasting fame.
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Sheridan's Ride, chromolithograph by Louis Prang & Co.
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Battle of Cedar Creek, Union counterattack.
 

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October 20, 1774
The First Continental Congress creates the Continental Association, which calls for a complete ban on all trade between America & Great Britain of all goods, wares or merchandise.

The creation of the association was in response to the Coercive Acts—or “Intolerable Acts” as they were known to the colonists–which were established by the British government to restore order in Massachusetts following the Boston Tea Party.

The Intolerable Acts were a set of 4 acts: The 1st was the Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston to all colonists until damages from the Boston Tea Party were paid. The 2nd, the Massachusetts Government Act, gave the British government total control of town meetings, taking all decisions out of the hands of the colonists. The 3rd, the Administration of Justice Act, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America & the 4th, the Quartering Act, required colonists to house & quarter British troops on demand, including in private homes as a last resort. (Unfortunately, if the Intolerable Acts are taught in schools today at all, the 4th act is seen just as having to let British troops sleep in churches, inns, meeting houses, or private home. Not stressed enough is that "quartering" also included food, laundry, care for the horses of officers or cavalry, etc.)

Outraged by the new laws mandated by the British Parliament, the Continental Association hoped that cutting off all trade with Great Britain would cause enough economic hardship there that the Intolerable Acts would be repealed. It was one of the 1st acts of Congress behind which every colony firmly stood. The Continental Association went into effect on December 1, 1774. The ban succeeded for the time that it was in effect, & the British retaliated by blocking American access to the North Atlantic fisheries.

Only one of the Thirteen Colonies failed to establish local enforcement committees; the restrictions were dutifully enforced in the others, & trade with Britain plummeted. Parliament responded by passing the New England Restraining Act which prohibited the northeastern colonies from trading with anyone but Britain & the British West Indies, & they barred colonial ships from the North Atlantic fishing areas. These punitive measures were later extended to most of the other colonies, as well.

The outbreak of open fighting between the Americans & British soldiers in April 1775 rendered moot any attempt to indirectly change British policies. In this regard, the Association failed to determine events in the way that it was designed. Britain did not yield to American demands but instead tried to tighten its grip, & the conflict escalated to war. However, the long-term success of the Association was in its effective direction of collective action among the colonies & expression of their common interests.
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From Thomas Jefferson's papers, this is a broadside copy of the Continental Association that was signed by Jefferson & other Virginians The Association adopted by the Continental Congress was published & signed by local leaders. Thomas Jefferson was not yet a delegate to Congress, but he signed this copy (lower left) with other Virginians.
 

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October 21, 1921
President Warren G. Harding delivers a speech in Alabama in which he condemns lynchings—extrajudicial murders (usually hangings) committed primarily by white supremacists against Black Americans in the Deep South.

Although his administration was much maligned for scandal & corruption, Harding advocated full civil rights for African Americans & suffrage for women. He supported the Dyer Anti-lynching Bill in 1920. Large internal population shifts in the wake of World War I had raised racial tensions throughout much of the US. As the 1920 Republican presidential nominee, Harding had advocated civil rights for blacks, despite evidence of wide opposition among white voters. At the time, the NAACCP reported that lynchings claimed the lives of, on average, 2 blacks every week.

During the 1920 presidential campaign, Harding’s ethnicity became a subject of debate & was used by his opponents to cast him in a negative light. Opponents claimed that one of Harding’s great-great-grandfathers was a native of the West Indies. Harding rebuffed the rumors, saying he was from white “pioneer stock” & persisted in his support of anti-lynching laws. Although the anti-lynching bill made it through the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate.

In Birmingham, Harding voiced support for anti-lynching bills pending in Congress. Legislation seeking to curb the practice was initially sponsored in 1918 by Rep. Leonidas Dyer (R-Mo.); Sen. Charles Curtis (R-Kan.) sponsored a companion measure in the Senate. They called for $10,000 fines to be levied against any county where a lynching occurred, for the prosecution of negligent state & county officials in federal courts & for the lodging of federal murder charges against participants.

Although the Republican-controlled House approved the bill in 1922, a phalanx of Southern Democrats mounted a successful filibuster against it in the Senate. Efforts to enact similar legislation languished on Capitol Hill until the 1930s, when Sens. Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) & Edward Costigan (D-Colo.) took up the cause. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, refused to back their bill, fearing it would cost him Southern electoral support & jeopardize his passage of his New Deal programs & his forthcoming 1936 reelection bid. Several other attempts to pass similar laws in the first half of the 20th century failed. In fact, civil rights for Black Americans were not encoded into law until Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Harding’s public denunciation of lynching would appear insincere if one were to believe allegations that he had actually been inducted into the Ku Klux Klan while in office. In 1987, historian Wyn Wade published The Fiery Cross, in which a former Ku Klux Klan member claimed to have witnessed Harding’s initiation into the Klan on the White House lawn. Scholars have since pored over Harding’s papers, but have found no evidence to support this allegation. In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution formally apologizing for its repeated failure to enact anti-lynching bills.
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Harding begins his front porch campaign by accepting the Republican nomination, July 22, 1920.
 

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October 22, 1934
Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd is shot by FBI agents in a cornfield in East Liverpool, OH. Floyd, who had been a hotly pursued fugitive for 4 years, used his last breath to deny his involvement in the infamous Kansas City Massacre, in which 4 officers were shot to death at a train station. He died shortly thereafter.

Charles Floyd grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. When it became impossible to operate a small farm in the drought conditions of the late 1920s, Floyd tried his hand at bank robbery. He soon found himself in a Missouri prison for robbing a St. Louis payroll delivery. After being paroled in 1929, he learned that Jim Mills had shot his father to death. Since Mills, who had been acquitted of the charges, was never heard from or seen again, Floyd was believed to have killed him.

Moving on to Kansas City, Floyd got mixed up with the city’s burgeoning criminal community. A local prostitute gave Floyd the nickname “Pretty Boy,” which he hated. Along with a couple of friends he had met in prison, he robbed several banks in Missouri & Ohio, but was eventually caught in Ohio & sentenced to 12-15 years. On the way to prison, Floyd kicked out a window & jumped from the speeding train. He made it to Toledo, where he hooked up with Bill “The Killer” Miller.

The 2 went on a crime spree across several states until Miller was killed in a spectacular firefight in Bowling Green, OH, in 1931. Once he was back in Kansas City, Floyd killed a federal agent during a raid & became a nationally known criminal figure. This time he escaped to the backwoods of Oklahoma. The locals there, reeling from the Depression, were not about to turn in an Oklahoma native for robbing banks. Floyd became a Robin Hood-type figure, staying one step ahead of the law. Even the Joads, characters in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, spoke well of Floyd.

However, not everyone was so enamored with “Pretty Boy.” Oklahoma’s governor put out a $6,000 bounty on his head. On June 17, 1933, when law enforcement officials were ambushed by a machine-gun attack in a Kansas City train station while transporting criminal Frank Nash to prison, Floyd’s notoriety grew even more. Although it was not clear whether or not Floyd was responsible, both the FBI & the nation’s press pegged the crime on him nevertheless. Subsequently, pressure was stepped up to capture the illustrious fugitive, & the FBI finally got their man in Oct. 1934.
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Grunk

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Sorry I didn't get this up yesterday. Suz's leg is not getting any better. Not getting any worse either. She still can't put any weight on it. Guess we're going to have to go to the ER & maybe the hospital. Not sure how we're going to handle that financially or physically.

I'll find a way. Haven't ever given up before. Too old & ornery to start now.

Would appreciate any prayers, good thoughts, spells, smoke, etc. you guys can spare.

October 23, 1989
23 people die in a series of explosions sparked by an ethylene leak at a factory in Pasadena, TX. The blasts, which took place at a Phillips Petroleum Company plant, were caused by inadequate safety procedures. The initial blast registered 3.5 on the Richter scale, & the conflagration took 10 hours to bring under control.

A polyethylene reactor at the Phillips 66 Chemical Complex in Pasadena created chemical compounds necessary for the production of plastics. The plant produced millions of pounds of plastics daily for use in toys & containers. In an effort to cut costs, Phillips subcontracted much of the necessary maintenance work in the plant. Fish Engineering & Construction, the primary subcontractor, did not enjoy a stellar reputation even prior to the Oct. 23 disaster. In August, a Fish employee opened gas piping for maintenance without isolating the line. This caused flammable solvents & gas to be sent into a work area where they ignited, killing 1 worker & injuring 4 others.

Fish was undertaking maintenance work on the plant’s polyethylene reactor on Oct. 23 when, once again, problems arose. A valve was not secured properly, & at approximately 1 pm, 85,000 pounds of highly flammable ethylene-isobutane gas were released into the plant. During routine maintenance, isolation valves were closed & compressed air hoses that actuated them physically disconnected as a safety measure. The air connections for opening & closing this valve were identical, & had been improperly reversed when last re-connected. As a result, the valve would have been open while the switch in the control room was in the "valve closed" position. After that, the valve was opened when it was expected to stay closed, & finally passed the reactor content into air There were no detectors or warning systems in place to give notice of the impending disaster. Within 2 minutes, the large gas cloud ignited with the power of 2.5 tons of dynamite.

The explosion could be heard for miles in every direction & the resulting fireball was visible at least 15 miles away. 23 workers at Phillips were killed & another 314 were injured (130 seriously) as the 1st explosion set off a chain reaction of blasts. A subsequent investigation found that although the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) had cited Phillips for several serious safety violations in previous years, it had not done a comprehensive inspection of the plant since 1975. Other testimony revealed that inadequate safety procedures used during the maintenance process had left the plant vulnerable to disaster. However, no criminal charges were filed against Phillips or its managers.
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Grunk

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October 24, 1945
The United Nations Charter, which was adopted & signed on June 26, 1945, is now effective & ready to be enforced.

The United Nations was born of perceived necessity, as a means of better arbitrating international conflict & negotiating peace than was provided for by the old League of Nations. The growing Second World War became the real impetus for the US, Britain, & the Soviet Union to begin formulating the original UN Declaration, signed by 26 nations in Jan. 1942, as a formal act of opposition to Germany, Italy, & Japan, the Axis Powers.

The principles of the UN Charter were first formulated at the San Francisco Conference, which convened on April 25, 1945. It was presided over by President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, & Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, & attended by representatives of 50 nations, including 9 continental European states, 21 North, Central, & South American republics, 7 Middle Eastern states, 5 British Commonwealth nations, 2 Soviet republics (in addition to the USSR itself), 2 East Asian nations, & 3 African states. The conference laid out a structure for a new international organization that was to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,…to establish conditions under which justice & respect for the obligations arising from treaties & other sources of international law can be maintained, & to promote social progress & better standards of life in larger freedom.”

Two other important objectives described in the Charter were respecting the principles of equal rights & self-determination of all peoples (originally directed at smaller nations now vulnerable to being swallowed up by the Communist behemoths emerging from the war) & international cooperation in solving economic, social, cultural, & humanitarian problems around the world.

Now that the war was over, negotiating & maintaining the peace was the practical responsibility of the new UN Security Council, made up of the US, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, & China. Each would have veto power over the other. Winston Churchill called for the United Nations to employ its charter in the service of creating a new, united Europe-united in its opposition to communist expansion-East & West. Given the composition of the Security Council, this would prove easier said than done.1603527481259.png