Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March 31: Mark Spitz

On this date in History ... March 31, 1972:

Swimmer Mark Spitz was presented the Amateur Athletic Union’s coveted Sullivan Award as the outstanding amateur athlete of 1971. Spitz went on to Olympic heroics a few months later, winning seven gold medals. Raised in Hawaii where he swam every day, by the age of ten he held 17 national age group records and one world record. After competing in the 1968 Olympic games, Spitz enrolled at Indiana University before going to the 1972 Olympics where he won his seven legendary gold medals.

He set 33 world records and was voted "Athlete of the Century" in water sports.

During a time when most swimmers believed body hair slowed them down, Spitz was a stand-out by wearing "an iconic mustache" which he called his "good luck piece".

Monday, March 30, 2015

March 30: U.S. Buys Alaska

On this date in History .... March 30, 1867:

William Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, signs a treaty with Russia to purchase the vast landmass of Alaska, adding over half a million square miles to the U.S. He had trouble convincing Congress of the value of the deal, even with a purchase price of about two cents an acre.  The Senate finally ratified the deal by just one vote. Congress and the press called it “Seward’s Folly” and President Andrew Jacksons “polar bear garden.”   

Russia had wanted to sell Alaska during Pres. Buchanan’s term but the Civil War came along and interrupted the negotiations.  

Alaska had been a very profitable territory for Russia while under the leadership of Alexander Baranov who oversaw the Russian interests in the territory.  Baranov built a strong trade economy, built schools and factories.  He brought Russia over 1000% profit. 

When he resigned, the leadership was taken over by a group who set high salaries for themselves and reduced by half the price paid to the natives for seal fur and walrus ivory.  This price reduction forced the natives to double the killing just to make enough money to live, resulting in actions that almost killed off all of the sea otters.  Sufferings by the natives brought about uprisings and protests which were stopped by the Russians firing on the natives from their military ships.  It was a far cry from the prosperous time under Baranov.  

When the Crimean War broke out, Russia found it difficult to defend two fronts and they began talks with the U.S. about selling Alaska.  

The territory was slow to become populated by the U.S. citizenry (only about 2000 people lived there in 1867), but when gold was discovered about 30 years later, there became a huge influx of people to the new territory. Between 1890 and 1900, the population doubled from around 30,000 to 63,000.  Less than 1% of those who ventured to Alaska came away rich with gold.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

March 29: Cumberland Trail Survey is Authorized

On this date in History .... March 29, 1806:  

Congress authorizes a survey to begin constructing the Cumberland Road, which began in Cumberland Maryland and stretched west. The Army Corp of Engineers did the survey and also did the construction which started in 1811. It took seven years to complete the road through the Appalachians to Wheeling, W. Virginia.  Stagecoaches and other traffic filled the road and by 1850 the road, which had earned the name “The National Road”, had extended all the way west to Indianapolis.  

In 1926, the road became part of U.S. 40, part of a coast-to-coast highway that started in Maryland and ended in California.  

A drive along U.S. 40 reveals interesting historical architecture such as the “S” Bridge, so named because of the unique shaped, usually adapted to continue a path over a small stream, such as this one in Blaine, Ohio:

In the 1960s, the construction of Interstate 70 ran pretty parallel to U.S. 40 and left many of the small towns and small businesses now almost isolated.  With the loss of major traffic, the small mom and pop businesses, diners, motels and others became small relics along an almost forgotten path that was once a major pipeline of traffic and commerce.  

As a footnote to this story, here is my October 28th posting/blog about the Madonna of the Trail statues that were placed along The National Road: 
CLICK HERE to go to the Madonna of the Trail article...


Saturday, March 28, 2015

March 28: California Raisins

On this date in History .... March 28, 1997:

The California Raisins’ first commercial, “Lunchbox”, (click here to see the "Lunchbox" commercial) was listed at #15 in Entertainment Weekly’s "The 50 Best Commercials of All Time". The Raisins were described as "The coolest wrinkled musicians this side of the Stones.”  

The idea came up while trying to create a commercial for the California Raisin Board.  One of the frustrated writers said, “We’ve tried everything but a raisin singing ‘I’ve Heard It Through the Grapevine!’ “(a song by Marvin Gaye).  

The commercial became a hit that gave birth to more commercials, two TV specials, a Saturday cartoon and four LP releases, including a Christmas album.  A 1988 primetime special “Meet the Raisins” got them an Emmy Nomination. Future commercials with the Raisins featured such superstars as Ray Charles and Michael Jackson.  


Toy figurines of the Raisins became popular 80s collectibles including being give-aways by Hardee’s as part of their cinnamon-raisin biscuit promotion. In their peak year (1988), these claymation figures made more money than all actual raisin farmers combined from sales of toys, posters, lunchboxes, clothes and much more.

Friday, March 27, 2015

March 27: Cherry Trees Planted in Washington DC

On this date in History .... March 27, 1912:

First Lady Helen (Nellie) Taft, wife of U.S. Pres. William Howard Taft, and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees in Washington DC. The trees are Yoshino cherries, and are still standing several hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street. There are now over 3700 cherry trees on the Tidal Basin in Wash. DC.

There were a few obstacles and problems getting the trees to the U.S. The first batch of 2000 trees arrived diseased in 1910, but many people in both governments got involved to replace the damaged gifted trees. In March 1912, 3000 trees arrived and a simple ceremony was held with the two first ladies planting the first trees.

There is an annual National Cherry Blossom Festival that now attracts over 1.5 million visitors.