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.
Times Square in New York was given its name shortly after the offices of The New York Times moved to the area.
Having once belonged to the prominent real estate investor John Jacob Astor, the second half of the 19th century saw the area around the modern Times Square become the centre of the New York carriage business. The establishment of the American Horse Exchange by the prominent businessman William Henry Vanderbilt fuelled this development which led to the area being named Longacre Square after London’s carriage district which centred on Long Acre.
While the late 1800s saw the area develop a reputation as a red light district, the arrival of electricity attracted the impresario Oscar Hammerstein I who opened a huge theatre complex called the Olympia in 1895. Although the nearby Empire Theatre had opened two years earlier, the imposing Olympia contributed to a change in the economic makeup of Longacre that coincided with the arrival of New York’s first rapid transit system.
Easy access to middle- and upper-class restaurant and theatre goers, alongside the fast distribution network provided by the new Interborough Rapid Transit line, persuaded Adolph S. Ochs of The New York Times to move his newspaper’s headquarters to the area at the start of the 20th century. Having chosen a prime piece of land he built the Times Tower, the second tallest building in the city at the time, with its basement containing the printing presses right next door to the new subway line.
To coincide with the arrival of the newspaper, Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. approved a resolution to change the name from Longacre Square to Times Square. Even after the newspaper moved offices the name stayed, as did the neon lights and millions of visitors.
On the 3rd April 1882, the American outlaw Jesse James was shot dead by fellow gang-member Robert Ford. His death became a national sensation – James had been a famous Confederate guerrilla fighter during the Civil War, and had become America’s most wanted criminal in the years since.
As a train robber, James and his gang rarely robbed passengers. This may have led to their popular association with the legend of Robin Hood – stealing from the rich to give to the poor. However, there is no evidence that the James gang actually shared their loot with anyone but themselves.
Despite their early success, by 1881 the gang was falling apart. Many members had fled, or been killed or arrested, and so Jesse James was forced to ally with new gang members. In January 1882 one of his new associates, Robert Ford, met with Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittenden and agreed to kill James in return for a full pardon for his own crimes and a $10,000 reward.
On the morning of April 3rd, shortly before leaving their safe house to rob the Platte City bank, James noticed a dusty picture on the mantelpiece. As he stood on a chair and turned to clean it, Robert Ford shot him in the back of the head. He presented himself to the police where, on the same day, he was charged with murder, pled guilty, sentenced to death by hanging, and then granted a full pardon by Governor Crittenden.
On the 29th March 1973, the last American troops withdrew from South Vietnam. Taking place two months after the Paris Peace Accords were signed between the U.S., North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the Viet Cong, the final withdrawal ended eight years of direct American military involvement in Vietnam.
As the number of US troops sent to fight in Vietnam increased throughout the 1960s, opposition to the war similarly grew. By the spring of 1969 new President Richard Nixon, who had been elected the previous November, had begun to implement the Nixon Doctrine that is more commonly known as the policy of Vietnamization. This intended to “expand, equip, and train South Vietnam’s forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S. combat troops.”
Pressure to quit Vietnam completely increased after news of the My Lai Massacre was broken on the 12th November. Troop withdrawals therefore continued, although the US began attacks on Cambodia and Laos in an attempt to flush out Viet Cong and disrupt their supply lines. This coincided with the killing by National Guardsmen of four student protesters at Kent State University which turned yet more people against the war.
Throughout this period Henry Kissinger took part in secret talks with the leadership of North Vietnam. Despite a number of setbacks, they signed the Paris Peace Accords on the 27th January. The last American troops withdrew on the 29th March, but the last American civilians didn’t leave South Vietnam until they were evacuated in Operation Frequent Wind during the North Vietnamese takeover of Saigon two years later.
On the 19th March 1962, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan released his eponymous debut album.
Dylan had arrived in New York from Minnesota the previous year, but had quickly worked his way into the coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village. It was here that he became known to established folk singer Carolyn Hester who invited him to join her as a harmonica player. While rehearsing in her apartment in September, Dylan met Columbia Records’ talent scout John H. Hammond who stated he decided to sign Dylan “on the spot” although in reality the contract wasn’t finalised until the end of October.
The album was recorded over six hours of sessions on the 20th to the 22nd of November. Legend has it that the album cost $402 to produce, but this figure was only stated as a joke by John Hammond – the true cost is unknown. Although there were a couple of false starts, five of the final recordings were the first take as Dylan refused requests to do a second.
Only two tracks on Dylan’s debut album were his own compositions and it failed to hit the Billboard 100, selling less than 5,000 copies in its first year and earning Dylan the nickname “Hammond’s Folly” from record executives. Despite this set-back, however, he returned to the studio shortly after the release of his first album to begin work on his second, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which consisted almost entirely of original songs. Opening with the now-classic Blowin’ in the Wind, it was this album that established Dylan as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.
On the 5th March 1946, Winston Churchill described the post-war division of Europe as an “iron curtain” in his “Sinews of Peace” address at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Often interpreted as a key event in the origin of the Cold War, Churchill’s speech played a significant role in changing Western perceptions of their former Soviet ally.
Churchill, as the British Prime Minister, had led Britain to victory in the Second World War but in the General Election of July 1945 suffered a landslide defeat to Clement Attlee’s Labour Party. Despite now being in opposition, he continued to be highly respected abroad and visited the United States in 1946. During this trip he was invited by Westminster College in the 7,000-person town of Fulton to deliver a speech to an audience of 40,000 people.
Churchill was introduced at Fulton by President Harry Truman, and opened his speech by complimenting the United States as standing “at the pinnacle of world power.” As the speech progressed, he became increasingly critical of the Soviet Union’s policies in Eastern Europe. Churchill was not the first to use the term “iron curtain” as a metaphor for a strong divide since versions of its had been in use for many centuries, and nor was the “Sinews of Peace” speech the first time that he himself had used the term. However, his use of the term in a speech with such a large audience thrust it into wider circulation and associated it directly with the post-war situation.
Stalin accused Churchill of warmongering, and defended the USSR’s relationship with eastern Europe as a necessary barrier to future attacks.
On the 1st March 1692, the Salem witch trials began when Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba were brought before local magistrates in Salem Village, Massachusetts. The paranoia and hysteria that ensued eventually led to the executions of twenty men and women, and the deaths of seven more accused whilst in prison.
Salem’s witch hysteria began in January 1692 when the daughter and niece of the Reverend Samuel Parris began to suffer violent fits. The local doctor couldn’t find a physical cause for their illness, and so blamed the supernatural. Other young girls in the community soon began to display similar symptoms, and three local women were accused of bewitching them.
Significantly, the three women were all in some way social outcasts – Tituba was a slave; Sarah Good was a homeless beggar and Sarah Osborne was a poor elderly woman who rarely attended church. They were brought in front of local magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, and although both Good and Osborne denied their guilt Tituba confessed to being “the Devil’s servant”. The reason for her confession is unclear, but it is presumed that she sought to act as an informer in a bid to save herself.
Over the next few weeks dozens more people were accused of witchcraft including the four-year old Dorothy Good, Sarah’s Good’s daughter, who was imprisoned for nine months before being released on bond for £50.
Of the three women first accused of witchcraft in Salem, only Sarah Good was executed. Sarah Osborne died in jail while on trial while Tituba was eventually freed from jail after an anonymous person paid her fees.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, under his pen-name Mark Twain, had previously published the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in which the character of Huckleberry “Huck” Finn is introduced for the first time. Eight years after its release, the sequel was published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and was followed by the American version two months later.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was originally published without the definite article at the start of its title, is set in the antebellum South when the economy was fuelled by plantations using slave labour. The novel follows Huck’s journey down the river Mississippi with Jim, a slave who ran away from his owner Miss Watson.
Notable as one of the first American novels to be written in vernacular English, it is told in the first person by Huck himself. This is said to have revolutionised American literature, with Ernest Hemingway later claiming that “All modern American literature comes from…Huckleberry Finn.”
Despite such later acclaim, the book was greeted with mixed reviews on its release and within just a month it had been banned by the library in Concord, Massachusetts for being “trash…suitable only for the slums.” Other libraries in the late 19th and early 20th century followed suit, and the novel continues to divide opinion due to its frequent use of the n-word and its portrayal of black characters. However, defenders of the book instead interpret Twain’s creation as a masterpiece of American literature that uses satire to present a powerful attack on racism.