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Feb 04
Feb 4, 1938: Disney releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

“See for yourself what the genius of Walt Disney has created in his first full length feature production,” proclaimed the original trailer for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released on this day in 1938.

Based on the famous fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White opened with the Wicked Queen asking her magic mirror the question “Who is the fairest one of all?” The mirror gives its fateful answer: Snow White, the queen’s young stepdaughter. Ordered by the queen to kill the young princess, a sympathetic woodsman instead urges Snow White to hide in the forest; there she encounters a host of friendly animals, who lead her to a cottage inhabited by the Seven Dwarfs: Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy, Bashful and Happy. Eventually, in the classic happy ending viewers would come to expect as a Disney trademark, love conquers all as the dwarfs defeat the villainous queen and Snow White finds love with a handsome prince.

Walt Disney’s decision to make Snow White, which was the first animated feature to be produced in English and in Technicolor, flew in the face of the popular wisdom at the time. Naysayers, including his wife Lillian, warned him that audiences, especially adults, wouldn’t sit through a feature-length cartoon fantasy about dwarfs. But Disney put his future on the line, borrowing most of the $1.5 million that he used to make the film. Snow White premiered in Hollywood on December 21, 1937, earning a standing ovation from the star-studded crowd. When it was released to the public the following February, the film quickly grossed $8 million, a staggering sum during the Great Depression and the most made by any film up to that time.

Critics were virtually unanimous in their admiration for Snow White. Charlie Chaplin, who attended the Hollywood premiere, told the Los Angeles Times that the film “even surpassed our high expectations. In Dwarf Dopey, Disney has created one of the greatest comedians of all time.” The movie’s innovative use of story, color, animation, sound, direction and background, among other elements, later inspired directors like Federico Fellini and Orson Welles. In fact, Welles’ Citizen Kane features an opening shot of a castle at night with one lighted window that is strikingly similar to the first shot of the Wicked Queen’s castle in Snow White.

Disney won an honorary Academy Award for his pioneering achievement, while the music for the film, featuring Snow White’s famous ballad, “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and other songs by Frank Churchill, Larry Morey, Paul J. Smith and Leigh Harline, was also nominated for an Oscar. The studio re-released Snow White for the first time in 1944, during World War II; thereafter, it was released repeatedly every decade or so, a pattern that became a tradition for Disney’s animated films. For its 50th anniversary in 1987, Snow White was restored, but cropped into a wide-screen format, a choice that irked some critics. Disney released a more complete digital restoration of the film in 1993. Its power continues to endure: In June 2008, more than 60 years after its U.S. release, the American Film Institute chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the No. 1 animated film of all time in its listing of “America’s 10 Greatest Films in 10 Classic Genres.”​


Feb 03
Feb 3, 1959: The day the music died.

On this day in 1959, rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error. Holly and his band, the Crickets, had just scored a No. 1 hit with "That'll Be the Day."

After mechanical difficulties with the tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Holly's band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.

Holly, born Charles Holley in Lubbock, Texas, and just 22 when he died, began singing country music with high school friends before switching to rock and roll after opening for various performers, including Elvis Presley. By the mid-1950s, Holly and his band had a regular radio show and toured internationally, playing hits like "Peggy Sue," "Oh, Boy!," "Maybe Baby" and "Early in the Morning." Holly wrote all his own songs, many of which were released after his death and influenced such artists as Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.

Another crash victim, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, 28, started out as a disk jockey in Texas and later began writing songs. Richardson's most famous recording was the rockabilly "Chantilly Lace," which made the Top 10. He developed a stage show based on his radio persona, "The Big Bopper."

The third crash victim was Ritchie Valens, born Richard Valenzuela in a suburb of Los  Angeles, who was only 17 when the plane went down but had already scored hits with "Come On, Let's Go," "Donna" and "La Bamba," an upbeat number based on a traditional Mexican wedding song (though Valens barely spoke Spanish). In 1987, Valens' life was portrayed in the movie La Bamba, and the title song, performed by Los Lobos, became a No. 1 hit. Valens was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Singer Don McLean memorialized Holly, Valens and Richardson in the 1972 No. 1 hit "American Pie," which refers to February 3, 1959 as "the day the music died."​


Feb 02
Feb 2, 1887: First Groundhog Day.

On this day in 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, is celebrated for the first time at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring.

Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day, when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal--the hedgehog--as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the Keystone State.

Groundhogs, also called woodchucks and whose scientific name is Marmota monax, typically weigh 12 to 15 pounds and live six to eight years. They eat vegetables and fruits, whistle when they're frightened or looking for a mate and can climb trees and swim. They go into hibernation in the late fall; during this time, their body temperatures drop significantly, their heartbeats slow from 80 to five beats per minute and they can lose 30 percent of their body fat. In February, male groundhogs emerge from their burrows to look for a mate (not to predict the weather) before going underground again. They come out of hibernation for good in March.

In 1887, a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America's only true weather-forecasting groundhog. The line of groundhogs that have since been known as Phil might be America's most famous groundhogs, but other towns across North America now have their own weather-predicting rodents, from Birmingham Bill to Staten Island Chuck to Shubenacadie Sam in Canada.

In 1993, the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray popularized the usage of "groundhog day" to mean something that is repeated over and over. Today, tens of thousands of people converge on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney each February 2 to witness Phil's prediction. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club hosts a three-day celebration featuring entertainment and activities.​


Jan 31
Jan 31, 1971: Apollo 14 departs for the moon.

​Apollo 14, piloted by astronauts Alan B. Shepard Jr., Edgar D. Mitchell, and Stuart A. Roosa, is successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a manned mission to the moon. On February 5, after suffering some initial problems in docking the lunar and command modules, Shepard and Mitchell descended to the lunar surface on the third U.S. moon landing. Upon stepping out of the lunar module, Shepard, who in 1961, aboard Freedom 7, was the first American in space, became the fifth astronaut to walk on the moon. Shepard and Mitchell remained on the lunar surface for nearly 34 hours, conducting simple scientific experiments, such as hitting golf balls into space with Shepard's golf club, and collecting 96 pounds of lunar samples. On February 9, Apollo 14 safely returned to Earth.​

Jan 29
Jan 29, 1936: U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elects first members.

On January 29, 1936, the U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elects its first members in Cooperstown, New York: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson.

The Hall of Fame actually had its beginnings in 1935, when plans were made to build a museum devoted to baseball and its 100-year history. A private organization based in Cooperstown called the Clark Foundation thought that establishing the Baseball Hall of Fame in their city would help to reinvigorate the area's Depression-ravaged economy by attracting tourists. To help sell the idea, the foundation advanced the idea that U.S. Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown. The story proved to be phony, but baseball officials, eager to capitalize on the marketing and publicity potential of a museum to honor the game's greats, gave their support to the project anyway.

In preparation for the dedication of the Hall of Fame in 1939--thought by many to be the centennial of baseball--the Baseball Writers' Association of America chose the five greatest superstars of the game as the first class to be inducted: Ty Cobb was the most productive hitter in history; Babe Ruth was both an ace pitcher and the greatest home-run hitter to play the game; Honus Wagner was a versatile star shortstop and batting champion; Christy Matthewson had more wins than any pitcher in National League history; and Walter Johnson was considered one of the most powerful pitchers to ever have taken the mound.

Today, with approximately 350,000 visitors per year, the Hall of Fame continues to be the hub of all things baseball. It has elected 278 individuals, in all, including 225 players, 17 managers, 8 umpires and 28 executives and pioneers.​


Jan 28
Jan 28, 1985: American recording artists gather to record "We Are the World".

The special instruction Quincy Jones sent out to the several dozen pop stars invited to participate in the recording of "We Are the World" was this: "Check your egos at the door." Jones was the producer of a record that would eventually go on to sell more than 7 million copies and raise more than $60 million for African famine relief. But before "We Are the World" could achieve those feats, it had to be captured on tape—no simple feat considering the number of major recording artists slated to participate. With only one chance to get the recording the way he and songwriters Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie wanted it, Jones convened the marathon recording session of "We Are the World" at around 10 p.m. on the evening of January 28, 1985, immediately following the conclusion of the American Music Awards ceremony held just a few miles away.

Singer/actor/activist Harry Belafonte was the initiator of the events that led to the recording of "We Are the World." Inspired by the recent success of "Do They Know It's Christmas?"—the multimillion-selling charity record by the British-Irish collective Band Aid—Belafonte talked Lionel Ritchie, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones into helping him organize an American response under the name "USA for Africa." Ritchie and Jackson wrote the song over the course of several days in January, and Belafonte's manager, Ken Kragen, who would go on to serve as President of the USA for Africa Foundation, the nonprofit organization that managed the profits from "We Are the World," came up with the plan to hold the session on the night of the AMA's in order to guarantee that the greatest number of big names would be able to participate.

Among the 45 stars who sang on "We Are the World" that night were huge-in-the-80s figures like Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis; Country stars like Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson; pop icons like Smokey Robinson, Tina Turner and Paul Simon; and musical giants like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. Also in the studio that night were half of the Jackson family, one  Irishman (Bob Geldof, co-organizer of Band Aid) and one party-crashing Canadian, comedian Dan Aykroyd. Egos fully in check, the group laid down the chorus and solos before sunrise on the 29th, and "We Are the World" was in the stores and on the airwaves just five weeks later.​


Jan 28
Jan 28, 1986: Challenger explodes.

At 11:38 a.m. EST, on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Christa McAuliffe is on her way to becoming the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. McAuliffe, a 37-year-old high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire, won a competition that earned her a place among the seven-member crew of the Challenger. She underwent months of shuttle training but then, beginning January 23, was forced to wait six long days as the Challenger's launch countdown was repeatedly delayed because of weather and technical problems. Finally, on January 28, the shuttle lifted off.

Seventy-three seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including Christa's family, stared in disbelief as the shuttle exploded in a forking plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the wrenching tragedy unfold on live television. There were no survivors.

In 1976, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) unveiled the world's first reusable manned spacecraft, the Enterprise. Five years later, space flights of the shuttle began when Columbia traveled into space on a 54-hour mission. Launched by two solid-rocket boosters and an external tank, only the aircraft-like shuttle entered into orbit around Earth. When the mission was completed, the shuttle fired engines to reduce speed and, after descending through the atmosphere, landed like a glider. Early shuttles took satellite equipment into space and carried out various scientific experiments. The Challenger disaster was the first major shuttle accident.

In the aftermath of the explosion, President Ronald Reagan appointed a special commission to determine what went wrong with Challenger and to develop future corrective measures. The presidential commission was headed by former secretary of state William Rogers, and included former astronaut Neil Armstrong and former test pilot Chuck Yeager. The investigation determined that the explosion was caused by the failure of an "O-ring" seal in one of the two solid-fuel rockets. The elastic O-ring did not respond as expected because of the cold temperature at launch time, which began a chain of events that resulted in the massive explosion. As a result of the explosion, NASA did not send astronauts into space for more than two years as it redesigned a number of features of the space shuttle.

In September 1988, space shuttle flights resumed with the successful launching of the Discovery. Since then, the space shuttle has carried out numerous important missions, such as the repair and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope and the construction of the International Space Station.

On February 1, 2003, a second space-shuttle disaster rocked the United States when Columbia disintegrated upon reentry of the Earth's atmosphere. All aboard were killed. Despite fears that the problems that downed Columbia had not been satisfactorily addressed, space-shuttle flights resumed on July 26, 2005, when Discovery was again put into orbit.​


Jan 27
Jan 27, 1888: National Geographic Society founded.

On January 27, 1888, the National Geographic Society is founded in Washington, D.C., for "the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge."

The 33 men who originally met and formed the National Geographic Society were a diverse group of geographers, explorers, teachers, lawyers, cartographers, military officers and financiers. All shared an interest in scientific and geographical knowledge, as well as an opinion that in a time of discovery, invention, change and mass communication, Americans were becoming more curious about the world around them. With this in mind, the men drafted a constitution and elected as the Society's president a lawyer and philanthropist named Gardiner Greene Hubbard. Neither a scientist nor a geographer, Hubbard represented the Society's desire to reach out to the layman.

Nine months after its inception, the Society published its first issue of National Geographic magazine. Readership did not grow, however, until Gilbert H. Grosvenor took over as editor in 1899. In only a few years, Grosvenor boosted circulation from 1,000 to 2 million by discarding the magazine's format of short, overly technical articles for articles of general interest accompanied by photographs. National Geographic quickly became known for its stunning and pioneering photography, being the first to print natural-color photos of sky, sea and the North and South Poles.

The Society used its revenues from the magazine to sponsor expeditions and research projects that furthered humanity's understanding of natural phenomena. In this role, the National Geographic Society has been instrumental in making possible some of the great achievements in exploration and science. To date, it has given out more than 1,400 grants, funding that helped Robert Peary journey to the North Pole, Richard Byrd fly over the South Pole, Jacques Cousteau delve into the sea and Jane Goodall observe wild chimpanzees, among many other projects.

Today, the National Geographic Society is one of the world's largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions. National Geographic continues to sell as a glossy monthly, with a circulation of around 9 million. The Society also sees itself as a guardian of the planet's natural resources, and in this capacity, focuses on ways to broaden its reach and educate its readers about the unique relationship that humans have with the earth.​


Jan 26
Jan 26, 1986: Bears beat Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

On January 26, 1986, in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Chicago Bears score a Super Bowl record number of points to defeat the New England Patriots, 46-10, and win their first championship since 1963.

Led by Coach Mike Ditka, a tight end for the Bears during their last Super Bowl win, Chicago won 17 of 18 games to reach the championship match-up with the Patriots, who became only the fourth wild-card team in history to advance to the Super Bowl. After Tony Franklin kicked a 36-yard field goal only one minute and 19 seconds into the game, New England took the quickest lead in Super Bowl history. It was mostly downhill for the Patriots from there, as the Bears built a 23-3 lead by halftime, gaining a total of 236 yards, compared with New England’s minus 19. The young Patriots quarterback, Tony Eason, had zero completions in six passes, was sacked three times and fumbled once before being replaced by Steve Grogan near the end of the first half.

The mighty Bears defense made a crucial impact on the game, causing six Patriot turnovers (four of which led to touchdowns) and holding New England to a total of only seven rushing yards all game. The Bears were hot on offense as well, as quarterback Jim McMahon completed 12 of 20 passes for 256 yards and no interceptions. Defensive tackle William "The Refrigerator" Perry had one of the game’s most memorable moments, running in a one-yard touchdown and spiking the ball in celebration. The celebrated Chicago running back Walter Payton carried 22 times for 61 yards but did not score, the one disappointment in an otherwise triumphant game for the Bears.

When the game was over, the Bears had set a new NFL record for margin of victory (36 points), bettering the mark of 29 set by the Los Angeles Raiders when they beat the Washington Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII. They also scored more points than any other team in the history of the Super Bowl, beating the previous record (38) shared by the Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX. The Bears defensive end Richard Dent, who contributed one and a half of Chicago’s record seven sacks, was named the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XX, becoming only the fourth defender to win the honor.

Super Bowl XX is also remembered for the ubiquitous "Super Bowl Shuffle," a rap song and accompanying video released by the Bears during the weeks leading up to their championship meeting with the Patriots. Payton, McMahon, Dent, Perry and linebacker Mike Singletary were among the Bears who participated in the song’s production, which reached #41 on the Billboard charts and earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.​


Jan 26
Jan 26, 1788: Australia Day.

On January 26, 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip guides a fleet of 11 British ships carrying convicts to the colony of New South Wales, effectively founding Australia. After overcoming a period of hardship, the fledgling colony began to celebrate the anniversary of this date with great fanfare.

Australia, once known as New South Wales, was originally planned as a penal colony. In October 1786, the British government appointed Arthur Phillip captain of the HMS Sirius, and commissioned him to establish an agricultural work camp there for British convicts. With little idea of what he could expect from the mysterious and distant land, Phillip had great difficulty assembling the fleet that was to make the journey. His requests for more experienced farmers to assist the penal colony were repeatedly denied, and he was both poorly funded and outfitted. Nonetheless, accompanied by a small contingent of Marines and other officers, Phillip led his 1,000-strong party, of whom more than 700 were convicts, around Africa to the eastern side of Australia. In all, the voyage lasted eight months, claiming the deaths of some 30 men.

The first years of settlement were nearly disastrous. Cursed with poor soil, an unfamiliar climate and workers who were ignorant of farming, Phillip had great difficulty keeping the men alive. The colony was on the verge of outright starvation for several years, and the marines sent to keep order were not up to the task. Phillip, who proved to be a tough but fair-minded leader, persevered by appointing convicts to positions of responsibility and oversight. Floggings and hangings were commonplace, but so was egalitarianism. As Phillip said before leaving England: "In a new country there will be no slavery and hence no slaves."

Though Phillip returned to England in 1792, the colony became prosperous by the turn of the 19th century. Feeling a new sense of patriotism, the men began to rally around January 26 as their founding day. Historian Manning Clarke noted that in 1808 the men observed the "anniversary of the foundation of the colony" with "drinking and merriment."

Finally, in 1818, January 26 became an official holiday, marking the 30th anniversary of British settlement in Australia. And, as Australia became a sovereign nation, it became the national holiday known as Australia Day. Today, Australia Day serves both as a day of celebration for the founding of the white British settlement, and as a day of mourning for the Aborigines who were slowly dispossessed of their land as white colonization spread across the continent.​


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