Events - December 20
1606 - The "Susan Constant", "Godspeed" and "Discovery" set sail from London. Their destination: America. Captain Christopher Newport commanded the three tiny ships (and, we do mean tiny -- check out Jamestown village in Virginia to see for yourself. The ships are on display and you can climb aboard) for the royally chartered Virginia Company. Their landing at Jamestown, VA was the start of the first permanent English settlement in America.
1803 - The United States finally took possession of the Louisiana Territories from France on this day. The treaty that France drew up, giving the Territories to the United States for $15 million, was actually dated April 30, 1803 and signed on May 2. It didn’t reach Washington until July 14. After much objection from Federalists and a bit of stretching of Constitutional Law, Congress ratified the treaty on October 25 with possession final on December 20. The Louisiana Purchase effectively doubled the size of the existing U.S. With 827,987 square miles in the deal, that price translates to roughly $18 per square mile -- under 3 cents per acre.
1892 - Alexander T. Brown and George Stillman of Syracuse, New York patented the pneumatic tire. So, if you are feeling flat from all that holiday hustle and bustle, get a pneumatic tire today for a quick pick-me-up. Makes a perfect gift! Buy several!
1920 - An English-born comedian named Leslie Townes Hope became an American citizen. He had lived in the United States since 1908 and became one of the nation’s true ambassadors for show business and charity. We say, “Thanks for the memory,” to Bob Hope.
1928 - For the first time, a living actress in the United States had a theatre named after her. The Ethel Barrymore Theatre opened in New York City.
1928 - Mail delivery by dog sled began -- in Lewiston, Maine.
1932 - Al Jolson recorded "April Showers" on Brunswick Records.
1938 - Vladimir Kosma Zworykin of Wilkinsburg, PA patented the iconoscope television system. The system did catch on, but the name didn’t. No one could say, "You can be sure if it’s Zworykin."
1949 - Harry Belafonte had his second session with Capitol Records. Included in the session were "Whispering" and "Farewell to Arms". With eight tunes then recorded and little enthusiasm from record buyers, Capitol decided to part company with Belafonte by not renewing the singer’s contract. He went to RCA Victor in April, 1952 and the rest is musical history. Day-O!
1951 - EBR-I (Experimental Breeder Reactor-I) ushered in a new era in nuclear history when it became the first reactor to generate useable amounts of electricity from nuclear energy. It accomplished this feat by lighting four light bulbs this day at the National Reactor Testing Station of Argonne National Laboratory, Butte County, Idaho. EBR-I was registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
1952 - Jimmy Boyd reached the #1 spot on the record charts with the Christmas song of the year, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".
1954 - Buick Motor Company signed Jackie Gleason to one of the largest contracts ever entered into with an entertainer. Gleason agreed to produce 78 half-hour shows over a two-year period for $6,142,500. How sweet it was!
1962 - A world indoor pole-vault record was set by Don Meyers in Chicago, IL as he cleared 16 feet, 1-1/4 inches.
1963 - The Berlin Wall was opened for the first time. It remained open for the holiday season, but closed again on January 6, 1964. 4,000 people crossed over to visit relatives during this period.
1972 - Jack Albertson and Sam Levine starred as two retired vaudevillians in Neil Simon’s classic comedy, "The Sunshine Boys", which opened at the Broadhurst Theatre in NYC. The play had a run of 538 performances. The movie version later became a box office smash.
1973 - Singer Bobby Darin died following open-heart surgery at the age of 37. He left a legacy of memories in rock ’n’ roll and pop tunes, as well as on television and in movies (even an Oscar nomination for his role in "Captain Newman, M.D."). The story of Darin being groomed to replace Frank Sinatra at Capitol Records is absolutely true. Unfortunately, Capitol didn’t think the grooming was going so well, and withheld many of Darin’s songs for many years; releasing them in a compilation CD in 1995. Good stuff to listen to: "Splish Splash", "Queen of the Hop", "Dream Lover", "Mack the Knife", "Beyond the Sea", "If I Were a Carpenter", etc. At the end, Darin, who had recorded for Atco, Capitol and Atlantic Records had just begun recording for Motown.
1975 - Paul Simon’s "50 Ways to leave Your Lover" jumped on U.S. singles charts. It hit number one (for three weeks) Feb 7, 1976. For you trivia fans out there, this is Paul Simon’s only #1 single (so far). “Just slip out the back, Jack; Make a new plan, Stan; You don't need to be coy, Roy; Just get yourself free...”
1980 - TV experimented, as NBC covered the meaningless NFL game between the New York Jets (4-11) and the Miami Dolphins (8-7). No announcers were in the booth. The only sounds heard were field noise and spectators as the pictures tried to convey the emotion of the game. Headlines the next day read, “Jets Silence Dolphins 24-17.”
1983 - Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins was named NFL Coach of the Year by the Associated Press. He became the first head coach to receive this honor in consecutive years since 1961-62 (when Allie Sherman, of the New York Giants, was so honored). Joe Gibbs took the Redskins to a 14-2 finish in the 1983 season.
1985 - Robert Penn Warren was designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry of the U.S. Library of Congress for 1986-1987. The library has used consultants since 1937, when Joseph Auslander was appointed the first Consultant in Poetry, but Robert Penn Warren was the first to be called Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.
1986 - The Bangles’ "Walk like an Egyptian" moved to the top of the "Billboard" "Hot 100". It was #1 for three weeks. “Foreign types with the hookah pipes say; Ay oh whey oh, ay oh whey oh; Walk like an Egyptian...”
1995 - "Nixon" opened in U.S. theatres. The film starred Anthony Hopkins as Richard M., Joan Allen as the president’s wife, Pat, Powers Boothe as Alexander Haig, Ed Harris as E. Howard Hunt, Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover, E.G. Marshall as John Mitchell, David Paymer as Ronald Ziegler, David Hyde Pierce as John Dean, Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger, Mary Steenburgen as Hannah Nixon, J.T. Walsh as John Ehrlichman, and James Woods played H.R. Haldeman.
1996 - Astronomer, educator and Pulitzer Prize-winning author (1978: "The Dragons of Eden") Carl Sagan died after a two-year battle with a bone marrow disease at age 62. Sagan became one of the best-known scientists in the U.S. by enthusiastically conveying the wonders of the universe to millions of people on TV and in books. Dr. Sagan was also familiar to TV viewers from appearances in the 1970s and 1980s on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson", who was known to don a black wig and perform a Sagan impersonation. Carson delighted in parodying Sagan’s references to “billions and billions of stars” in the universe.
1996 - Movies that opened in the U.S.: "Ghosts of Mississippi" (“In 1963, civil rights leader Medgar Evers was gunned down in front of his wife and children. In 1994, the time was right for justice.”), with Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, James Woods and Craig T. Nelson; "My Fellow Americans" (“A comedy about life, liberty and the pursuit of two ex-presidents.”), starring Jack Lemmon and James Garner; and "One Fine Day" (“She was having a perfectly bad day... Then he came along and spoiled it.”), with Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney.
1998 - Green Bay’s Brett Favre connected three times with Antonio Freeman in the first half against the Tennessee Oilers en route to a 30-22 victory this day. In doing so, Favre became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 30 or more touchdowns in five consecutive seasons (33 in 1994, 28 in 1995, 39 in 1996, 35 in 1997, and 30 in 1998).
Birthdays - December 20
1868 - Harvey Firestone (industrialist: founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company; died Feb 7, 1938)
1881 - (Wesley) Branch Rickey (‘The Mahatma’: baseball: SL Browns, NY Highlanders; died Dec 9, 1965)
1895 - Susanne Langer (philosopher; author: Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art; died July 17, 1985)
1898 - Irene (Marie) Dunne (actress: Leathernecking, Cimarron, Back Street, Magnificent Obsession, Roberta, Show Boat, Theodora Goes Wild, The Awful Truth, Love Affair, A Guy Named Joe, Anna and the King of Siam, Life with Father, I Remember Mama, My Favorite Wife, It Grows on Trees; Alternate Delegate to the United Nations; Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award ; died Sep 4, 1990)
1900 - Gabby (Charles Leo) Hartnett (Baseball Hall of Fame catcher: Chicago Cubs [World Series: 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938/all-star: 1933-1938/NL MVP: 1935]; .297 lifetime average w/236 home runs; caught 100 or more games 12 times; manager: Chicago Cubs [as rookie manager in 1938, he hit homer in near darkness to beat Pirates and lead Cubs to pennant]; died Dec 20, 1972)
1902 - Sidney Hook (philosopher, writer: From Hegel to Marx : Studies in the Intellectual Development of Karl Marx, The Metaphysics of Pragmatism, The Hero in History : A Study in Limitation and Possibility; died Jul 12, 1989)
1902 - Max Lerner (educator, author, columnist: New York Post; died June 5, 1992)
1908 - Dennis Morgan (Stanley Morner) (singer; actor: 21 Beacon Street, Pearl of the South Pacific, It’s a Great Feeling, Christmas in Connecticut, The Great Ziegfeld, Two Guys from Milwaukee, Desert Song, Kitty Foyle, My Wild Irish Rose; died Sep 7, 1994)
1911 - Hortense Calisher (novelist: In the Slammer with Carol Smith, The Hollow Boy; died Jan 13, 2009)
1918 - Audrey Totter (actress: The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Carpetbaggers; died Dec 12, 2013)
1921 - George Roy Hill (director: Funny Farm, The World According to Garp, A Little Romance, Slap Shot, The Sting, Slaughterhouse Five, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Hawaii, The World of Henry Orient, Toys in the Attic, Period of Adjustment, Min & Bill, Kraft Television Theatre; died Dec 27, 2002)
1926 - David Levine (caricaturist: New York Review of Books; “Probably the greatest American caricaturist.” -- The New York Times; died Dec 29, 2009)
1928 - Jack Christiansen (Football Hall of Famer: Detroit Lions: NFL Individual Record: 8 Career punt returns for touchdowns [1951-1958]; died June 29, 1986)
1932 - John Hillerman (Emmy Award-winning actor: Magnum P.I. [1986-1987]; Hands of a Murderer, Chinatown, Blazing Saddles, Paper Moon, The Last Picture Show; died Nov 9, 2017)
1943 - Angel Tompkins (actress: Walking Tall, Part II, The Bees)
1944 - Bobby Colomby (musician: drums, singer: group: Blood, Sweat & Tears: And When I Die, You Made Me So Very Happy, Spinning Wheel, Hi De Ho)
1945 - Peter Criss (Crisscoula) (musician: drummer: group: Kiss [Beth, the cat])
1946 - Uri Geller (psychic, clairvoyant, spoon-bender)
1948 - Dick Gibbs (basketball: Univ. of Texas at El Paso)
1948 - Alan Parsons (musician: keyboards; music engineer: worked on The Beatles’ Abbey Road LP and early Wings LPs; producer: The Alan Parsons Project: Eye in the Sky, Games People Play)
1948 - Little Stevie Wright (singer: group: The Easybeats: She’s So Fine, Wedding Ring, Sad and Lonely and Blue, Woman, Come and See Her, Friday on My Mind, Hello How are You, Good Times; solo LP: Hard Road)
1949 - Cecil (Celester) Cooper (baseball: Boston Red Sox [World Series: 1975], Milwaukee Brewers [all-star: 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985/World Series: 1982])
1949 - Oscar (Charles) Gamble (baseball: Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians, NY Yankees [World Series: 1976, 1981], Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers)
1950 - Bill Clement (hockey: NHL: Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Atlanta Flames, Calgary Flames; TV analyst: ESPN)
1952 - Jenny Agutter (Emmy Award-winning actress: The Snow Goose [1971-72]; Logan’s Run, An American Werewolf in London, Child’s Play)
1957 - Billy (Steven) Bragg (songwriter, musician: guitar, singer: The Milkman of Human Kindness, A New England, Man in the Iron Mask, St. Withins Day, Island of No Return, Between the Wars, World Turned Upside Down, Which Side are You On?, Levi Stubbs’ Tears)
1960 - Mark Keyloun (actor: Separate Vacations, Gimme an F, Mike’s Murder, Sudden Impact)
1966 - Chris Robinson (singer: group: The Black Crowes)
Chart Toppers - December 20
I Can Dream, Can’t I? - The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (vocal: Jack Leonard)
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Gene Autry
White Christmas - Bing Crosby
Mule Train - Tennessee Ernie Ford
Jailhouse Rock - Elvis Presley
Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
At the Hop - Danny & The Juniors
My Special Angel - Bobby Helms
Turn! Turn! Turn! - The Byrds
Over and Over - The Dave Clark Five
I Got You (I Feel Good) - James Brown
Make the World Go Away - Eddy Arnold
The Most Beautiful Girl - Charlie Rich
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John
Time in a Bottle - Jim Croce
Amazing Love - Charley Pride
Physical - Olivia Newton-John
Waiting for a Girl like You - Foreigner
Let’s Groove - Earth, Wind & Fire
All Roads Lead to You - Steve Wariner
We Didn’t Start the Fire - Billy Joel
Another Day in Paradise - Phil Collins
Don’t Know Much - Linda Ronstadt (featuring Aaron Neville)
Two Dozen Roses - Shenandoah
Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end...
Written and edited by Carol Williams and John Williams
Produced by John Williams
Those Were the Days, the Today in History feature
from 440 International
No portion of these files may be reproduced without the express, written permission of 440 International Inc.