The DeLorean DMC-12 sports car was later used as the time machine in Back to the Future.
The DeLorean Motor Company was founded by engineer and automobile executive John DeLorean in 1975. The prototype DeLorean Safety Vehicle was completed in October 1976 with initial investment from celebrities including Johnny Carson and Sammy Davies Jr. Meanwhile DeLorean secured significant financial incentives from the Northern Ireland Development Agency to build the manufacturing plant in Dunmurry, a suburb of Belfast, in an attempt to cut unemployment and curb sectarian violence.
The factory was built in 1978 with production of the car scheduled to begin the following year. Subsequent engineering delays and budget overruns meant that work on the first units didn’t actually begin until 1981. Built by an enthusiastic but largely inexperienced workforce, the first of the distinctively shaped DeLorean DMC-12s was completed on 21 January. Fitted with gull-wing doors and finished with stainless-steel body panels, the car’s appearance was expected to be a unique selling point.
However, by the time the first cars were available a recession had hit the United States that had a devastating effect on new car sales. Combined with mediocre reviews and customer complaints about the quality of the finished vehicles, it’s reported that at least half of the 7,000 cars produced by February 1982 had not been sold.
Although the company limped on for a few more months, the DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt shortly after its owner was charged by the U.S. government with trafficking cocaine. Although he was later acquitted, DeLorean’s reputation was irreparably damaged.
The Battle of Monte Cassino began when Allied forces launched the first of four attacks against the Gustav Line in Italy.
The Gustav Line, which together with the Bernhardt and Hitler lines formed a series of defences known as the Winter Line, had been established by the Germans and Italians to defend Rome from a northern advance by the Allies. The Allied forces had secured a foothold in Italy in Operation Avalanche the previous September, having first captured Sicily.
By early January 1944 the Allies had advanced a long way north, but their progress had been stopped by poor weather that forced them to approach Rome along Highway 6 that ran from Naples through the Liri valley. The southern entrance to the valley was dominated by the town of Cassino and overlooked by the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino.
Although the German army did not position defensive units in the abbey itself, the natural topography gave them a notable advantage over the Allies. Combined with minefields that had been laid in advance, the strong German position withstood the first assault that lasted for two and a half weeks and involved troops under British, American and French command attacking the position from three sides.
German forces finally withdrew on 17 May, and the following morning soldiers from the Polish 12th Podolian Cavalry Regiment raised a Polish flag over the ruins. The four assaults that made up the Battle of Monte Cassino had led to 55,000 Allied casualities and destroyed the ancient abbey. The treasures it contained had been evacuated to Rome in November 1943.
21 people were killed and a further 150 were injured after 2.3 million gallons of molasses swept through North End in Boston, Massachusetts after a storage tank collapsed.
The 50 ft (15 m) tall tank on Commercial Street had been built in 1915 by the Purity Distilling Company to store molasses that were then fermented to produce industrial alcohol for liquor and munitions manufacturing. Demand for the latter had soared following the outbreak of the First World War, and the company had rushed to take advantage. The storage tank was built quickly and was already known to leak, since the metal used for its construction was poor quality and only half as thick as it needed to be to hold the intended quantity of molasses.
A warm shipment of molasses was added to the tank two days before the disaster, decreasing the overall viscosity of the contents and enabling it to flow faster while also increasing the pressure on the tank walls. It has since been suggested that the dramatic increase in air temperate from -17 to 5.0 °C over the course of the previous day may have also increased the speed of fermentation within the tank, adding further pressure from carbon dioxide.
The tank collapsed shortly after noon, and witnesses later recalled feeling the ground shake and hearing a variety of loud crashes followed by a sound similar to gunfire as the rivets shot out of the tank. A wave of molasses measuring over 15 feet swept down the street at 35 miles an hour, smashing houses and seriously damaging the support girders of a nearby elevated train track.
Many of the victims were either crushed by the force of the wave or drowned in the sticky syrup. The youngest victims were just ten years old.
On the 14th January 1943, the Casablanca Conference began in Morocco. Primarily a military meeting between the USA and Britain, the conference resulted in a declaration of the doctrine of “unconditional surrender”.
The conference saw the Combined Chiefs of Staff join American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to discuss the future strategy for fighting the Second World War. Representing the Free French forces, Generals Charles de Gaulle, and Henri Giraud were also in attendance. Roosevelt’s attendance at the conference marked the first time a President had left American soil during wartime. Meanwhile the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin declined his invitation as he felt his presence was needed at home during the ongoing Battle of Stalingrad.
The conference saw the leaders agree to invade Sicily after the North African Campaign, as a way to pull Axis forces away from mainland Europe and weaken the German defence ahead of a later Allied invasion of France. In return, Churchill agreed to send more troops to the Pacific in order to help the American forces continue their fight against the Japanese. Meanwhile, they agreed to launch combined bombing missions against Germany and to destroy German U-boats in the Atlantic.
Details of the conference were kept from the public until the participants left Casablanca. However, a number of journalists were invited for a press conference on the 24th January where vague details of the discussions were announced by Roosevelt. He did, however, announce his demand for the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers – an approach that had been discussed at the conference, but was not fully embraced by Churchill.
On the 8th January 1918, United States President Woodrow Wilson made a speech to Congress in which he outlined his principles for world peace, known as the Fourteen Points. Keen to distance the United States from nationalistic disputes that fuelled European rivalries, he sought a lasting peace by securing terms that avoided selfish ambitions of the victors.
Three days earlier, on the 5th January, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had outlined British war aims at the Caxton Hall conference of the Trades Union Congress. It was the first time any of the Allies had shared their post-war intentions and, as a result Woodrow Wilson considered abandoning his own speech since many of the points were similar. However, he was persuaded to deliver the speech anyway.
The Fourteen Points were greeted with some reluctance from France in particular. Georges Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, is said to have remarked that, “The good Lord only had ten!” as a comparison to the Ten Commandments. However, the Fourteen Points speech became an instrument of propaganda that was widely circulated within Germany. Consequently it later served as a basis for the German armistice that was signed later that year.
However, France’s vastly different intentions meant that, when the time the Paris Peace Conference began on the 18th January 1919, there was significant tension between the negotiators. The fact that Wilson himself was physically ill meant that he was less able to argue for peace terms that reflected the Fourteen Points against Clemenceau – the Tiger – and his demands to cripple Germany. Consequently many Germans felt incredible anger over the final terms of the Treaty.
On the 31st December 1935, the board game Monopoly was patented. Although the patent for the game was awarded to Charles B. Darrow, a Philadelphia heating salesman who had lost his job during the Great Depression, it’s now widely recognised that he was just one of many people who developed the complex design and rules that we now know as Monopoly.
As early as 1902 an Illinois-born writer and engineer called Elizabeth Magie created a board game called The Landlord’s Game which bears striking similarities to Monopoly. She patented this game in 1904 and approached Parker Brothers with the idea in around 1910. Although they declined to publish it, her self-produced copies became popular with Quakers, university students, and members of the public who supported Georgist economics.
Magie, by now married and with the new name Phillips, re-patented an updated version in 1924 and was again turned down by Parker Brothers. However, the updated version spread widely through word-of-mouth, with Charles Darrow’s wife eventually learning it. Darrow began to distribute his own version of the game, and in October 1934 was himself rejected by Parker Brothers who found the game “too complicated, too technical, [and] took too long to play.” However, successful Christmas sales led Parker Brothers to reverse their decision and the game from Darrow in March 1935. Before the end of the year they learnt that he was not the sole inventor, but pressed ahead with the purchase and helped him secure a patent, while they bought up the patents to similar games – including The Landlord’s Game – to ensure that they had definitive ownership of the idea.
The Exorcist is one of the highest-grossing films of all time, but originally opened in just twenty-six American cinemas. Famed for its ground-breaking special effects, the film terrified audiences yet was nominated for ten Academy Awards of which it won two.
The film, directed by William Friedkin who had previously had success with The French Connection, was adapted from William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name. This was itself inspired by reports of the real-life exorcism of an anonymous boy known by the pseudonym Roland Doe that emerged in the late 1940s. Blatty described his novel as ‘an apostolic work’ that sought to prove that if supernatural evil existed then so too must supernatural good.
These themes came through in Friedkin’s film, but for many audience members it was the sight of the twelve year-old Regan’s spinning head, levitation, vomiting and other extreme behaviour that proved most shocking and most memorable. With newspapers reporting cases of people fainting at screenings, The Exorcist quickly became a social phenomenon.
The film went on to sell 6 million tickets within just three months of its release in the United States despite a mixed response from the critics. While Variety praised its “expert telling of a supernatural horror story”, the New York Times criticised it as “a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap”.
Such negative responses failed to affect the film’s success, however. The Exorcist was the second most popular film of 1974 and, once gross earnings are adjusted for inflation, remains the ninth highest-grossing film of all time.
On the 23rd December 1823, the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas” was published anonymously in the New York Sentinel. It is significant for being the first source to give the names of Santa’s reindeer, as well as establishing the image of the jolly fat Santa that we know today. Reprinted a number of times in subsequent years, the poem became attributed to the academic Clement Clarke Moore who eventually acknowledged authorship in 1844. However, debate over the author continues to this day with Major Henry Livingston, Jr. being other potential writer being put forward most regularly.
Legend says that Moore wrote the poem while on a shopping trip, and read it to his children on Christmas Eve 1822. A year later a copy found its way to the offices of the New York Sentinel who published it along with a message in which the editor expressed “his cordial thanks to whoever had sent him these Christmas verses.”
Moore’s reluctance to be associated with the verse apparently stemmed from his career as a professor of ancient languages, since he didn’t want the poem to undermine his academic credentials. It was his friend, Charles Fenno Hoffman, who first publicly attributed the poem to him in the Christmas 1837 edition of the Pennsylvania Inquirer and Daily Courier.
One interesting aside relates to Santa’s reindeer in the poem. When reading it to children, they’re often surprised to find that Rudolph isn’t mentioned. This is because Rudolph didn’t appear until the story by Robert L. May was published in 1939.
On the 21st December 1913, the first modern crossword puzzle was printed in the New York World newspaper. Created by British-born journalist Arthur Wynne, his diamond-shaped puzzle was originally called a ‘word-cross puzzle’, but due to a typesetting error the name was accidentally changed to a ‘cross-word puzzle’ and the name stuck.
Although examples of crossword-like puzzles had begun appearing in the mid-19th Century, Wynne was the first to include various features that we associate with modern crosswords such as a box for entering each letter and a symmetrical design. His first ‘word-cross’ was actually shaped as a symmetrical diamond with a hollow centre, but he soon went on to design other versions. Wynne was even the first to incorporate shaded black squares to allow the creation – and separation – of rows and columns of words that allowed more and more complex designs to be created.
Surprisingly, the ‘word-cross’ was just one of a number of puzzles developed by Wynne for the 21st December issue of the New York World’s ‘Fun’ supplement. However it caused a sensation and, before long, crossword puzzles had spread beyond the New York World to other newspapers in America and beyond. Within less than a decade they had begun to appear in comic strips such as Clare Briggs’ cartoon ‘Movie of a Man Doing the Cross-Word Puzzle’, and in 1924 the first collection of crossword puzzles was published by Simon and Schuster. This is also the same year that the first crossword appeared in a British newspaper, when the Sunday Express printed an adapted Wynne puzzle in November 1924.
On the 17th December 1903, American brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight. Their aircraft, known as the Wright Flyer but later referred to as Flyer I, made its historic flights about four miles south of the town of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. Four flights were made on the day, with the first by Orville lasting for just 12 seconds over a total distance of only 36.5m.
The brothers originally went into business selling, repairing and designing bicycles. However, by the end of 1899 they had developed a keen interest in flight, and began to devise control systems that could be employed on manned gliders. Their justification was that it was pointless to create a powered aircraft before a reliable control system had been designed. Their research led them to develop three axis control: wing-warping to control the roll of the aircraft, a moveable rudder to control yaw, and elevators to control the pitch.
Successful testing of these controls on a glider in 1902 led the brothers to build an engine to power their flying machine, along with a pair of specially-designed propellers that were refined under testing in their own wind tunnel.
After a number technical delays, the brothers tossed and coin to decide who would be the first to fly on the 14th December. Wilbur won, but stalled the engine on take-off and crashed the plane after just a three-second flight. After repairs, Orville became the first to pilot the aircraft on its first true flight three days later. Each brother successfully flew twice that day.