SEPTEMBER 30, 1955: Actor James Dean is killed in a car crash in California. The handsome and electric young actor captured a restless new spirit in the country’s youth culture, and seemed poised for stardom. At the time of his death only East of Eden had been released, but with the posthumous debut of Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, he becomes a Hollywood legend.
1982: The sitcom Cheers debuts on NBC. Following the lives of a Boston bar owner (Ted Danson), his coterie of friends, and numerous love interests, over eleven seasons the show becomes among the decade’s most successful sitcoms, and the original and repeat broadcast of its final episode in 1993 bests the historic mark set by M*A*S*H.
1954: The USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, is commissioned, inaugurating a new era in undersea warfare. Capable of extended submerged operations and speeds in excess of 20 knots, Nautilus breaks numerous submarine speed and endurance records, and in August 1958 becomes the first to transit the North Pole. She retires in 1980.
SEPTEMBER 29, 1918: Allied forces breach Germany’s Hindenburg Line, an extended complex of six defensive lines some 6,000 yards deep. The imposing fortification was targeted by a massive artillery barrage of more than 1,600 guns along a 10,000-yard front, paving the way for a ground assault led by American and Australian troops.
1957: The New York Giants play their last game at the Polo Grounds before packing up for San Francisco, where they will continue their longtime rivalry with the former Brooklyn Dodgers, now on their way to Los Angeles. Founded in 1883 as the New York Gothams, the Giants would go on to win the most games of any professional team and seven World Series titles.
BIRTHDAYS: Born on this day were British naval legend Horatio Nelson (1758); physicist Enrico Fermi (1901); actors Trevor Howard (1913), Madeline Kahn (1942), and Ian McShane (1942); Western singer Gene Autry (1907); and Polish labor leader Lech Walesa (1943).
SEPTEMBER 26, 1918: The American First Army leads an Allied attack on German positions in the Argonne Forest of France in what will be the largest battle fought by the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. More than a million American soldiers go into battle over the course of the grueling six-week campaign, suffering more than 120,000 casualties.
1969: The Brady Bunch premieres on ABC, exploring the lives of a blended suburban Los Angeles family with six children. Though never a top-rated show during its five-year run, its old-fashioned focus on family and life lessons amid a turbulent cultural moment touches a chord of nostalgia with viewers in re-runs, overcoming its often schmaltzy vibe to become a pop-culture icon.
1960: Senator Jack Kennedy and vice president Richard Nixon meet for the first televised presidential debate. The younger Kennedy benefits from seeming more at ease in front of the camera compared to Nixon, who declined to wear makeup. The four debates go on to turn the tide in Kennedy’s favor and forever alter presidential campaign politics.
1580: English seaman Francis Drake completes the second circumnavigation of the globe, which began as a mission to raid Spanish holdings in the Pacific. After weather storms in the Straits of Magellan, only one of Drake’s five ships, the Golden Hind, sails on, pausing near San Francisco Bay for repairs and claiming it (as “New Albion”) for Queen Elizabeth.
SEPTEMBER 25, 1970: The Partridge Family debuts on ABC. Inspired by the real-life family musical act The Cowsills, the show follows a single mother (Shirley Jones) and her five musical children who travel in a Mondrian-inspired bus. It spawns a real-world hit with the pilot episode’s “I Think I Love You,” and a short-lived singing career for teen heartthrob David Cassidy.
1980: Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham (far left) dies after a drinking binge, and soon thereafter the megastar band announces its dissolution. Zeppelin had stormed out of the late ‘60s British rock scene to rule stadiums around the world with a thundering combination of rock and blues and a reputation for wild backstage antics. Their anthemic “Stairway to Heaven” remains a classic-rock staple.
1775: Continental Army Colonel Ethan Allen is captured by the British after a foolhardy raid on Montreal during the Revolutionary War and is sent to England to be executed. He ultimately avoids the death penalty and later tries to negotiate Vermont’s return to British rule when the territory is denied admission to the new nation due to land claims by surrounding states.
BIRTHDAYS: Born on this day were actors Mark Hamill (1951), Anson Williams (1952), Heather Locklear (1961), and Will Smith (1968); carpet sweeper inventor Melville Bissell (1843), author William Faulkner (1897); composer Dmitry Shostakovich (1906); ; and notorious mutineer Fletcher Christian (1764).
SEPTEMBER 24, 1957: The Brooklyn Dodgers play their last game at Ebbets Field, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0, before packing up for Los Angeles. Founded in 1883 as the Atlantics — the Dodgers moniker arrived in 1932 — the team developed a long-running rivalry with the New York Giants that would endure after both teams moved to California.
1968: The investigative news program 60 Minutes debuts on CBS, pioneering a new form of television journalism and making a star of chief correspondent Mike Wallace (at right), who headlines the show through 2006. Known for in-depth pieces — and the occasional squirm-inducing confrontational interview — the show has won numerous journalistic accolades and Emmys through the years.
1966: The fictional musical group The Monkees scores an actual hit single with their first release, “Last Train to Clarksville.” Created as a parody/homage to The Beatles, the Monkees — Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, and Peter Tork — churned out quality tunes produced by some of the era’s top songwriters for their irreverent sitcom during its two-year run.
SEPTEMBER 23, 1779: John Paul Jones defeats two British ships off the coast of England during the Revolutionary War. Jones’s ship Bonhomme Richard had suffered extensive damage when he first attacked, but when one of the British commanders asked him to strike his colors, Jones replied: “I have not yet begun to fight.” Three hours later he had turned the tide of the battle.
1952: Republican vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon, seeking to save his place on the ticket with Eisenhower, takes to the airwaves in a half-hour defense against accusations of financial improprieties in his campaign. The address becomes known as the “Checkers speech” when Nixon vows to keep one gift he had received: his black-and-white dog.
1846: German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle discovers a new planet he names Neptune. The existence of an eighth planet from the sun had been postulated by French astronomers due to disturbances in Uranus’s orbit. Named for the Roman god of the sea, the blue gas giant was not visited by an Earth-based probe until Voyager 2 flew by in 1989.
SEPTEMBER 22, 1776: Continental Army captain Nathan Hale is executed by the British, and has some famous last words at the gallows. Hale had slipped into Long Island disguised as a Dutch schoolmaster to monitor British troop movements before being captured. According to folk legend, Hale uttered the defiant words: “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
1980: Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invades Iran in a dispute over territorial rights to the oil-rich region, igniting the brutal and bloody eight-year Iran-Iraq War. An estimated 500,000 people are killed on both sides during a largely stalemated conflict that sees the use of chemical weapons. Iraqi campaigns against local Kurds also kill another 50,000 to 100,000.
1964: Fidder on the Roof debuts on Broadway. Adapted from Tevye and his Daughters by Sholem Aleichem, Fiddler tells the tale of a pious dairyman in a small village in Tsarist Russia who clings to tradition in the face of his strong-willed children and the threat of a pogrom. Starring Zero Mostel, the musical wins nine Tony Awards and runs for more than 3,000 performances.
1927: Boxer Jack Dempsey loses the chance to regain his heavyweight boxing title after an infamous “Long Count.” Dempsey — who first won the title in 1919 and lost it to Gene Tunney in 1926 — failed to go to a neutral corner for five crucial seconds after knocking Tunney down in a rematch, allowing Tunney time to (barely) recover during the delayed 10-count and go on to win the bout.
SEPTEMBER 19, 1995: The New York Times and Washington post publish the so-called “Unabomber manifesto,” a lengthy 35,000-word tract written by a shadowy figure who claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks that had killed three people and injured 23 others over a span of 17 years. Former professor Ted Kaczynski is eventually identified as the author and arrested.
1970: The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuts on CBS. Starring Dick van Dyke Show veteran Moore, the sitcom follows the life of a spirited single woman working as a television news producer in Minneapolis. Over sevens seasons, Moore’s groundbreaking portrayal of an independent career woman garners wide critical acclaim and high ratings.
1777: British General John Burgoynes attacks Colonial General Horatio Gates at the First Battle of Saratoga. During the fighting, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold (inset) forcefully argues with Gates to send his troops in a counter-attack against the British column, a move which fails to turn the tide. Afterwards, Gates relieves Arnold as his second in command, feeding the young officer’s resentment.
SEPTEMBER 18, 1850: Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Act, a bid to lessen tensions between slave and free states that were being exacerbated by a growing number of slave escapes. The act required the arrest of escaped slaves and their return to lawful owners, and is forcefully denounced by abolitionists as a “Bloodhound Law” that implicates them in the immoral institution of slavery.
1960: Cuban dictator Fidel Castro arrives in New York City to attend the United Nations general assembly, where the following week he delivers a fiery, four-hour tirade accusing the United States of aggressive imperialism. Three months after Castro’s tumultuous junket the U.S. breaks all diplomatic relations with Cuba, a prelude to the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion.
1793: President George Washington lays the ceremonial cornerstone of the United States capitol building, future home of the House of Representatives and Senate. Congress moved into the north wing in 1800, but was forced to find temporary quarters after British troops burned the capitol and White House during the War of 1812; a rainstorm saved both from total destruction.
SEPTEMBER 17, 1862: General Robert E. Lee’s bold invasion of the north grinds to a halt at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland as Union and Confederate forces maul each other in the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. Union General George McClellan bends but does not break Lee’s lines, and the stalemate ends with nearly 4,000 dead and almost 20,000 more injured.
1978: Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin sign the Camp David Accords, the first peace treaty between the Jewish state and an Arab neighbor. Both men would receive the Nobel Peace prize, but Egypt was expelled from the Arab league the following year, and in 1981 Sadat was assassinated by Muslim extremists in retaliation for the treaty.
1976: NASA unveils the first space shuttle, Enterprise, an important milestone in the agency’s decade-long, $10-billion program to create a reusable low-Earth orbit vehicle. Though Enterprise would never fly in space, it was the first to test the design’s ability to glide back to Earth, proving the viability of aerodynamics that had been compared to a “flying brick.”
1972: The long-running series M*A*S*H debuts on CBS. An adaptation of Robert Altman’s acclaimed 1970 counterculture film, the show follows the lives of an Army medical facility operating near the front lines in Korea. Through eleven seasons mixing drama and comedy the show amasses numerous critical accolades, and its final episode in February 1983 draws a then-record 125 million viewers.
1916: German aviator Manfred baron von Richthofen — soon to be known as the “Red Baron” — shoots down his first enemy plane over the Western front during WWI. As commander of Fighter Wing 1 — dubbed “Richthofen’s Flying Circus” for its fancifully painted aircraft — Richtofen became the first fighter ace, eventually tallying 80 victories before being killed near Amiens in 1918.
SEPTEMBER 16, 1620: The Mayflower sets sail from Plymouth, England, bearing 102 religious pilgrims and entrepreneurs to the New World where they would found the first permanent English colony in America. The ship intended to land in what was then called Virginia, but was blown north and after 66 days came ashore in Massachusetts. The Plymouth colony was established the day after Christmas.
1893: The Cherokee Strip Land Run opens some 8.1 million acres in the Oklahoma territory to settlers. One of seven separate land runs held in the region, the Cherokee run is the largest on history, attracting more than 100,000 settlers. The final run takes place in 1895, and in 1907 Oklahoma becomes the 46th state.
1810: Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issues the Grito de Dolores (“Cry of Dolores”) calling for an end to three centuries of Spanish colonial rule over Mexico. Hidalgo attracts thousands to a populist peasant army that tries and fails to overthrow the government; Hidalgo is later executed. In the end, it is royalists of Spanish descent who engineer Mexico’s independence in 1821.
SEPTEMBER 15, 1950: General Douglas MacArthur stages a daring amphibious landing at Inchon and turns the tide of the Korean War. MacArthur’s plan was controversial given Inchon’s uniquely difficult geography, but the landing force — spearheaded by the First Marine Division — smashes ashore and drives through stubborn enemy resistance; two weeks later they would retake Seoul.
1935: A series of edicts known as the Nuremberg Laws deprive Jews of German citizenship and any functional role in German society, and also forbid marriages between Jews and Germans. They become the cornerstone for Nazi Germany’s racial laws that will accelerate the persecution of Jews and lead eventually to the Holocaust.
1916: The tank makes its battlefield debut at Flers-Courcelette. The Franco-British operation, part of the Somme offensive, was intended to break the German lines using massed artillery and infantry, but fails to break through and bogs down in a battle of attrition. The British deploy 49 Mark I tanks, but they are plagued by mechanical problems and difficult terrain, and prove indecisive.
SEPTEMBER 12, 1974: Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie is overthrown in a military coup. Selassie had ascended to emperor of the African nation in 1930, and led the resistance to Italy’s invasion shortly before WWII. He later tried to modernize the country’s economy while solidifying his control, and helped found the Organization of African Unity. But famine and politician stagnation would doom his rule.
1959: The classic Western series Bonanza debuts on NBC, chronicling the adventures of the Cartwright family in Nevada. Starring Lorne Greene as the family patriarch caring for three sons, episodes ranged from drama to broad comedy and also touched on environmental issues. Airing for 14 seasons, it is among the longest-running series in TV history.
1954: The family television show Lassie debuts on CBS. The tale of a long-haired collie that looks after a farm family — and in particular the trouble-prone pair of young boys — the show airs for 17 seasons, one of the longest run in television history, with Campbell’s Soup along as sponsor the whole way.
1953: John Kennedy marries Jacqueline Bouvier, whom he had courted while still serving in the House of Representatives and during a whirlwind Senate campaign. Following Kennedy’s election as the 35th president, the young couple became political celebrities of the so-called “Camelot” White House.
SEPTMEBER 11, 2001: Al-Qaeda terrorists hijack four commercial airliners, flying two into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, killing more than 3,000 Americans. A fourth plane is brought down apparently by passenger action in Pennsylvania. The attacks lead to a new era of security procedures and an overseas campaign against Islamic terrorists.
1985: Cincinnati Reds player-manager Pete Rose breaks Ty Cobb’s Major-League hit record of 4,129 in a game against the San Diego Padres, receiving a seven-minute standing ovation from a hometown crowd. “Charlie Hustle” would retire as a player the following year, but in 1989 was banned from baseball for gambling on Reds games.
1921: Silent-film star Fatty Arbuckle is arrested for the rape and murder of aspiring actress Virginia Rappe. A former star in Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops films, the heavy-set Arbuckle protested his innocence in the Rappe case but was quickly condemned and his films boycotted. After two mistrials, a third jury’s final not-guilty verdict and apology comes too late to save his career.
1777: Advancing under a dense fog, British Generals William Howe and Charles Cornwallis lead 18,000 redcoats in a full-scale attack on General George Washington’s troops at Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania. Outnumbered and facing encirclement, Washington orders a retreat, and Congress is forced to flee British troops as they occupy Philadelphia.
1955: The Western series Gunsmoke premieres on CBS. Adapted from the radio serial, Gunsmoke stars James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon, chief lawman of the frontier town of Dodge City, Kan. The show runs for a half-hour for its first four years before switching to a one-hour format, amassing 635 episodes over 20 years, the longest-running primetime show in history.
1813: Captain Oliver Hazard Perry defeats a squadron of six British warships at the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Perry had his flagship Lawrence all but sunk beneath him, but after transferring to the Niagra he sailed directly into the British line, firing broadsides at close range. After the victory he cabled President Harrison: “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”
1924: The infamous criminal duo Nathan Leopold (at right) and Richard Loeb — better known as Leopold & Loeb — are sentenced to life in prison for the “thrill-kill” kidnapping and murder of Bobbie Franks, avoiding execution thanks to defense attorney Clarence Darrow. The two college-educated men had tried to ransom Franks for $10,000, but were caught after his partially-buried body was discovered.
1919: Nearly a year after the end of WWI, General John J. Pershing leads a victory parade down New York City’s Fifth Avenue, with some 25,000 soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force’s First Division marched in full combat gear. A week later he led the same troops in a march in Washington.
SEPTEMBER 9, 1976: Mao Tse-tung, the Communist leader and founder of the People’s Republic of China, dies in Beijing at 82. Mao and the Communists took control of the massive nation in 1949 after a long civil war and consolidated their control through the Great Leap Forward, a failed economic initiative in 1958, and the tumultuous Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Mao remains a revered figure.
1971: Prisoners at the overcrowded Attica Correctional Facility in Buffalo, N.Y., seize control of much of the maximum-security prison and take 39 guards and prison workers hostage. Negotiators agree to improved living conditions in the prison, but when the rioters demand amnesty and passage to another country, guards storm the facility, killing 29 inmates and 10 hostages.
1919: A large part of the Boston police force goes on strike over opposition to their attempts at unionization, and the city quickly endures a spike in robbery and rioting. As Mayor Andrew Peters works to break the strike, Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge sends in the state militia to restore order, and his actions help catapult him to national office on the 1920 Republican ticket.
1850: California is admitted as the 31st state two years after the territory became a magnet in the 1848 gold rush, a rush-to-quick-riches ethos that would come to shape the state’s image. Composed of former Mexican territory, the state later trades its excavation reputation for other influential industries, led by the entertainment business in Los Angeles and the high-tech sector in San Francisco.
1966: Star Trek debuts on NBC. The groundbreaking science-fiction series from creator Gene Roddenberry presents an optimistic vision of humanity’s future, exploring many classic sci-fi themes alongside episodes inspired by the Cold War. The show runs for three seasons, making major stars of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and goes on to become a pop-culture institution.
1998: St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire hits his 62nd home run, breaking Roger Maris’s long-standing single-season record and just edging out Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa. McGwire would end the season with 70 home runs, a record that stood for three years. He later faced allegations of using performance-enhancing supplements.
1974: One month after being sworn in as his replacement, President Gerald Ford grants an unconditional pardon to former President Richard Nixon, exempting him from indictment and trial for all federal crimes that he “committed or may have committed or taken part in” in connection with the Watergate scandal. Ford signs the order during an Oval Office press conference.
1941: Advancing German and Finnish forces close the last road into Leningrad, beginning a siege that will last 872 days. More than 650,000 residents would die in 1942 alone from starvation, exposure, and German artillery; the final death toll would grow to an estimated 1.5 million. After resupply lines begin to reach the city, the Red Army breaks the siege in January 1944.
1664: Governor Peter Stuyvesant surrenders the city of New Amsterdam, part of the New Netherland colony on the southern tip of modern-day Manhattan, to an English naval squadron under the command of Colonel Richard Nicolls. The city is renamed New York in honor of the Duke of York. In 1686 the city became the first to receive a royal charter.
SEPTEMBER 5, 1972: Eight terrorists with the Palestinian group Black September break into the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany, killing two Israeli athletes and taking nine others hostage. The next day five of the terrorists and all the hostages are killed during an attempted rescue operation at the Munich airport; the remaining three are later released and hunted down by Israeli Mossad agents.
1877: Oglala Sioux chief Crazy Horse is killed at Fort Robinson, Neb., in a scuffle with a soldiers, dying just four months after his surrender to U.S. General Crook and after many years battling the federal government over its treatment of the Lakota peoples. A year earlier, Crazy Horse had led a war party to a stunning victory over General George Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
1836: Sam Houston is elected the first president of the Republic of Texas. After American settlers declared their independence from Mexico, Houston led a force of Texans against General Santa Anna in revenge for the sacking of the Alamo and forced him to relinquish the territory. He later supported annexation by the U.S. but was removed from office when he refused to join the Confederacy.
SEPTEMBER 4, 1886: The legendary Chiricahua Apache warrior Goyathlay — better known as Geronimo — surrenders after a lengthy pursuit by the U.S. Army. Geronimo had battled both Mexican and American forces for more than three decades, and his surrender was the last by a notable Indian warrior. He dies on an Oklahoma reservation in 1909.
SEPTEMBER 3, 1783: The Treaty of Paris formally ends the conflict between Great Britain and its former colonies, now recognized as the United States of America. During the negotiations Benjamin Franklin pressed to take possession of the province of Quebec and nearly succeeded, but settled instead for fishing rights off the Grand Banks.
1976: NASA’s Viking 2 probe lands in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars, six weeks after its sister-ship touched down, a double triumph for the space agency in the interim between the Apollo and space shuttle programs. Viking 2 would operate on the surface for more than four years, searching for — but never quite verifying — evidence of life on the Red Planet.
1943: The allied invasion of Italy begins with the main landing force hitting the beaches at Salerno as British General Bernard Montgomery drives north from Messina. Italian resistance quickly collapses as allied troops battle German Army forces in what would become a slow and brutal campaign up the peninsula.
SEPTEMBER 2, 1945: Japan formally surrenders onboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, bringing a final end to the fighting in World War II. Presiding over the ceremony was General Douglas MacArthur, who was set to lead the invasion of Japan — dubbed “Operation Olympic” — before the nation capitulated after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
1944: Navy Lieutenant — and future 41st President of the United States — George H.W. Bush completes a bombing mission over the Pacific island of Chichijima after his Grumman Avenger is hit by antiaircraft fire. Bush and another crewman bail out and are later rescued by the submarine USS Finback.
1666: A small fire at the king’s baker in Pudding Lane near the London Bridge grows into the Great Fire of London, a massive conflagration that destroys a large part of the city over the next three days, including more than 13,000 homes and the original St. Paul’s Cathedral.
SEPTEMBER 1, 1985: Oceanographer Robert Ballard locates the wreck of the RMS Titanic under 13,000 feet of water 400 miles east of Newfoundland, the first time the ill-fated vessel had been seen since since it went down in 1912. Dreams of raising the mighty ship were dashed, however, when she was found to be split in two, confirming eyewitness reports from the night of the sinking.
1983: Soviet jet fighters shoot down a Korean Airlines jet that had strayed into Russian airspace, killing all 269 on board. At a session of the U.N. Security Council, U.S. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick plays audiotapes of the fighter pilot talking with his controllers, forcing the Soviets to admit their guilt in a major Cold War showdown.
1939: Germany launches a massive invasion of Poland, the first battle in what would grow into World War II. Hitler had secured a non-aggression pact with Russia just days before the invasion, which divided Poland between the two nations. Outgunned, outnumbered, and facing the terrible new blitzkrieg war machine, Poland would surrender in just one month.
1864: General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union army smashes through the defenses of Atlanta, seizing the city and forcing the surrender of Confederate forces. Before setting off on his pivotal March to the Sea in November, Sherman orders Atlanta’s military assets destroyed, and the resulting fire burns large swaths of the city.