On the 14th June 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the so-called Flag Resolution and adopted the stars and stripes as the flag of the United States. The day is now celebrated as Flag Day, which first proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 although it is not an official federal holiday.
The Flag Resolution stated some general parameters for the appearance of the flag. Specifically it said that there should be thirteen alternate red and white stripes and a group of white stars against a blue background. However, it didn’t specify a precise arrangement. Consequently a range of different designs, all of which met the definition, were produced. Of these, the so-called Betsy Ross flag which has the stars arranged in a circle is probably the most famous.
The design of the flag has changed numerous times during its history to reflect the admission of more states into the Union. However, in 1818 Congress approved the Flag Act that specified there should always be thirteen stripes to represent the original thirteen colonies that broke away from British rule, and the same number of stars as states. Consequently the 50 stars on the current flag first appeared after Hawaii joined the United States in 1959.
Therefore the flag about which the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, was written is not the same design as the one in use today. That was instead a 15-star, 15-stripe flag flown at Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbour during a bombardment by British Royal Navy ships in the War of 1812.
On the 25th May 1961, American President John F. Kennedy made the announcement to a joint session of Congress that he had set his sights on a manned moon landing before the end of the decade.
To many people, including some personnel at NASA, Kennedy’s address seemed ridiculous. The USA had only sent its first man into space 20 days earlier and, although Alan Shepard’s spaceflight aboard Freedom 7 was a huge success, the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin had already become the first man in space three weeks before that. Taking on the USSR at a technological game that they were already leading appeared reckless.
An underlying issue was that, as part of his election campaign, Kennedy had promised to outperform the Soviet Union in the fields of space exploration and missile defence. In his famed television debate with Richard Nixon, Kennedy had mocked the fact that Nixon was proud of the USA being ahead of the USSR in terms of colour television while trailing in terms of rocket thrust. Gagarin’s flight had proved to the world that the USSR was currently ‘winning’ the Space Race, and so put pressure on Kennedy to increase spending on the Apollo space program. Having received a memo from Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson in which he reported that the USA was unlikely to ever outperform the USSR under the current spending arrangements, Kennedy launched the largest peacetime financial commitment ever made.
The $24 billion dollars did work, however, and Apollo 11 achieved Kennedy’s goal by landing on the moon on 20th July 1969.
On the 21st May 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to make a solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic when he flew 3,600 miles from New York to Paris. On exactly the same date five years later, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic when she landed in Northern Ireland, having been forced to abandon her intended destination of Paris due to technical difficulties.
Lindbergh’s flight in The Spirit of St Louis earned him not only enormous fame but also the $25,000 Orteig Prize that had been offered by a French-born New York hotelier to the first person to make a non-stop flight between New York and Paris.
Earhart, meanwhile, did not fly in the hope of receiving prize money. She later said that she aimed to prove that women were just as good as men in “jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.” Interestingly, she already held the record as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, but she did that as a passenger in 1928.
It’s worth noting that the very first non-stop transatlantic flight occurred in 1919. Two British aviators, John Alcock and Arthur Whiten Brown, flew a modified Vickers Vimy bomber aircraft from Newfoundland to Ireland in just under 16 hours. Their achievement won them the £10,000 Daily Mail aviation prize for the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. They received their prize from the then Secretary of State for Air, and future World War 2 Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
On 15th May 1928, the first animated cartoon to feature Mickey and Minnie Mouse was shown to a theatre audience. However, the cartoon that was shown that day was not Steamboat Willie, which is the cartoon most people know as Mickey Mouse’s debut. In fact Mickey’s first animated appearance was in a silent short called Plane Crazy, but the cartoon failed to secure a distributor until a soundtrack was added a year later. It was finally released on the 29th March 1929, 11 months after its first – silent – showing.
The Mickey shown in Plane Crazy is nothing like the mouse we know today. Whereas the modern Mickey is caring and compassionate, in Plane Crazy he was rather mischievous and – some might say – cruel. In his first appearance he was aggressive towards Minnie, and took dangerous risks when flying the aeroplane that is central to the storyline. Visually he was also different – he didn’t wear his famous gloves, or shoes. These developments came much later, and demonstrate how rough the original ideas for Mickey Mouse really were.
Although it was an underwhelming first appearance for Mickey, Plane Crazy was an important release for the Disney studio. Animated almost exclusively by Disney’s trusted friend Ub Iwerks, it featured a range of highly developed techniques including the very first animated Point Of View sequence and a range of sophisticated perspectives. Although it has since been overshadowed by the success of Steamboat Willie, Plane Crazy is still a vitally important part of animation history.
On the 13th May 1787, the eleven ships of the “First Fleet” set sail under Captain Arthur Phillip from Portsmouth, England, to establish a penal colony in Australia. As well as over 1,000 convicts who had been sentenced to transportation, the ships also carried officers, crew, marines and their families.
It took 252 days for the six convict ships, three store ships, and two Royal Navy escort ships to complete the journey. The route involved the ships sailing first from Portsmouth to Tenerife, and then to Rio de Janeiro where they restocked their provisions and took livestock on board to establish the new settlement. They then sailed via Cape Town to Australia. This route ensured optimal usage of the prevailing winds to speed up the journey.
Despite the lengthy voyage and numerous dangers en route, the entire fleet of eleven ships arrived safely in Botany Bay. Going ashore to investigate Captain Cook’s proposed site for the penal colony, Captain Phillip quickly chose to instead find a different location because the soil was poor quality and there was limited access to fresh water. After further exploration, 6 days later he moved the fleet a few kilometres north to Sydney Cove, and the British flag was raised. 48 people had died on route, but over 1,400 people survived to establish the first European outpost in Australia on the 26th January 1788, the date which still marks Australia Day.
On the 9th May 1887, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show opened in London at the American Exhibition in West Brompton. This was the first time Buffalo Bill had travelled to Britain, and marked the first time that many Europeans had seen the fabled ‘Cowboys and Indians’.
Over 100 performers had travelled from New York aboard the steamship State of Nebraska, including members of a range of indigenous tribes who staged a very scripted and stage-friendly version of life on the Great Plains. Alongside the performers were a further 200 animals including horses, buffalo, elk, donkeys and deer and an original Deadwood stagecoach that was used in a scene depicting an attack by hostile tribes.
Alongside such choreographed scenes, the show also included demonstrations of so-called ‘cowboy skills’ such as lassoing galloping animals and sharp-shooting. The famous exhibition shooter Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank E. Butler, featured heavily in the show with Annie famously shooting a cigar from her husband’s mouth.
One of the reasons for the show’s success was the early support of Queen Victoria. The Queen, who was celebrating her Golden Jubilee the same year, was present at a command performance two days after the show opened and also went to visit the show again 6 weeks later. The royal seal of approval was a publicity coup for the show, which went on to play to over two and a half million people before it closed 6 months later.
The Battle of the Coral Sea, the first naval battle in which the participating ships never came in sight of each other, ended.
The Coral Sea is situated off the northeast coast of Australia. Following Japan’s entry into the Second World War, the Imperial Japanese Navy sought to establish perimeter defences in the region to protect the Japanese empire and isolate Australia and New Zealand from their ally the United States.
Japanese forces launched Operation MO, in which they planned to seize Port Moresby in New Guinea and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, on 3 May 1942. However, the Allies had intercepted messages about the impending attack and launched a series of surprise airstrikes against the Japanese from the U.S. fleet carrier Yorktown.
The Allied attack failed to stop the Japanese landings on Tulagi, but caused significant damage to the fleet that reduced its effectiveness in the second stage of the plan. Clearly aware of the presence of enemy aircraft carriers in the area, the Japanese consequently sought to locate and destroy the allied naval forces.
On the morning of 7 May, Japanese carrier-based planes located and sank a U.S. destroyer and an oiler while American planes sank the light Japanese carrier Shōhō and a cruiser. The following day Japanese aircraft damaged the U.S. carriers Yorktown and Lexington, which was later scuttled. Meanwhile the Japanese carrier Shōkaku was heavily damaged and had to withdraw, while Zuikaku suffered large aircraft losses that excluded it from the Battle of Midway the following month. Consequently while Japan experienced a tactical victory in terms of the number of ships sunk, the Allies gained a strategic advantage as Japan was forced to abandon Operation MO.
On the 23rd April 1985 the Coca-Cola Company introduced “the new taste of Coca-Cola”, when they replaced the original Coca-Cola formula with a new version. Marking the first major formula change in 99 years, ‘new Coke’ is widely heralded as one of the biggest marketing failures in history. However, the short-term problems arising from its introduction were far outweighed by the sales boost achieved when the company reintroduced the old formula as ‘Coca-Cola Classic’.
The new formula was introduced as a response to Pepsi’s increasing market share, where by 1983 Pepsi was outselling Coke in American supermarkets. This prompted Coke executives to begin ‘Project Kansas’ – secret research and development focused on reformulating the drink to challenge the sweeter taste of Pepsi. Taste tests were overwhelmingly positive and, even after the new formula was introduced to the market place, surveys suggested that the majority of drinkers liked the new taste. However, a small but vocal minority spoke out against it.
As criticism emerged in the press, it became clear to Coca-Cola executives that the issue was not a problem with the introduction of the new formula but the fact that it completely replaced the old one. When the company reintroduced the old formula three months later, there was a surge in sales of ‘Coca-Cola Classic’. In the words of marketing Vice-President Sergio Zyman, rather than being a marketing failure, “New Coke was a success because it revitalized the brand and reattached the public to Coke.”
On the 17th April 1492, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain – Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand – signed an agreement to support Christopher Columbus’ voyage in which he crossed the Atlantic and discovered the Americas.
The Capitulations of Santa Fe granted a number of official titles to Columbus as well as ten per cent of any treasure he was able to secure. The Capitulations mention the possibility of pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and – just in case he found anything else – “other objects of whatever kind, name and sort”.
Columbus’ plan was not to reach the Americas. He was trying to find an alternative route to the valuable spice markets of Asia by sailing West across the open Atlantic, rather than having to navigate around Africa. The modern belief that people at the time feared he would drop off the edge of a flat earth is a myth, since people had accepted that the Earth was a sphere since the time of the Ancient Greeks.
Columbus’ fleet of three ships set off from the Canary Islands on 6th September 1492. 5 weeks later they landed in what are now the Bahamas. Despite significant evidence against him, by the time Columbus died in 1506 he still refused to acknowledge that he had not, in fact, discovered the Western route to Asia. However, he was made Governor of the Indies by the Catholic Monarchs, although they removed him after accusations of cruelty. The Spanish rulers said that this cancelled the Capitulations of Santa Fe, and so refused to give him to 10% of all profits originally agreed.
The United States table tennis team heralded the era of ‘ping pong diplomacy’ by becoming the first official American delegation to visit China in 20 years.
Relations between America and China had soured in the aftermath of the Communist Revolution, and grew worse as a result of the Korean War in which the countries fought on opposing sides. Relations were so poor that, by the time the two countries travelled to Nagoya in Japan for the 31st World Table Tennis Championships in 1971, they had no diplomatic or economic relationship.
Richard Nixon intended to bring China in from the cold when he took up the presidency in 1969. Meanwhile, increasing tensions between China and the USSR had similarly led Chairman Mao to consider rebuilding relations with the United States. Both table tennis teams being in Nagoya offered the perfect opportunity.
Having missed the US bus after practice one evening, American player Glenn Cowan travelled back to his room with the Chinese team. Although the Chinese claim that Cowan “stumbled up the steps” of their bus, he claimed in an interview that he was invited to travel with them. Whatever the reality, during the short bus journey Cowan was given a silk-screen picture of the Huangshan mountains by the Chinese player Zhuang Zedong.
Favourable press coverage, which led Mao to comment on Zhuang Zedong’s positive actions as a diplomat, resulted in the entire American team being invited to China after the tournament ended. Having arrived in the country on 10 April, they spent ten days touring Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai. Their visit heralded a new period in Sino-American relations that culminated in President Nixon himself travelling to China the following year.