1869 First transcontinental railroad link completed.
1899 Fred Astaire was born.
1933 Nazis burned books.
1940 Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain.
1994 Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s first native-African president. (See July 18th entry.)
The railroad sparked the nation’s industrial development back in the 1800s. If covered wagons helped open the West, the railroad rolled out the welcome mat and made it mature. There were big doings at Promontory, Utah, on this date in 1869. Representatives of the Union Pacific Railroad drove a golden spike into the ground, completing the first full transcontinental railroad connection.
Printed books and oral storytelling traditions store ideas that later generations can discover. On this date in 1933, a group of fanatics thought they could change that. The German Nazis burned all the books of which they disapproved—20,000 copies. It was the book burners’ golden hour. And of course, it didn’t work. The Nazis were ultimately ground into the dust. The messages of those books were remembered.
Do the times make the men or the men make the times? The man who took office as Great Britain’s Prime Minister, on this date in 1940, is a case in point. He had been a successful author and lecturer, but more of a gadfly than a politician. Winston Churchill was sixty-six years old when he was offered his nation’s highest office.
Fred Austerlitz was born on this day in 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska. Years of dance lessons paid off when he and his sister Adele changed their last name to Astaire and took their act on the road. They quickly rose to stardom, playing the vaudeville circuit and eventually landing lead roles on Broadway during the 1920s. Adele got married in 1932, and Fred went out to Hollywood where he immortalized his seamless dance style on celluloid with style and grace.
An historic turning point occurred on this day in 1994. Since its early settlement by the Boers and the British in the 1800s, South Africa had maintained its rule of apartheid - segregation and discrimination between races. Native Africans were considered third - class citizens as were East Indians, who had emigrated to South Africa in the late 19th century. Bitter clashes, demonstrations, and political arrests were part of daily life. One political prisoner, Nelson Mandela, had spent years in a South African jail for opposing apartheid. He was eventually released in the 1980s as that nation began to lift its bans because of international political pressure. On this particular day, the former political prisoner Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s first Native-African president.