This Day in History: The Birth of Ronald Reagan

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This Day in History: The Birth of Ronald Reagan
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On this day in 1911, President Ronald Wilson Reagan is born in Tampico, Illinois.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, served for two terms from 1981 to 1989. Known as The Great Communicator, he was the first actor to be elected president after two centuries of mainly lawyers and soldiers.

Born and raised in Illinois, Reagan took his first media job as a radio sports announcer in the Midwest. Buoyed by his on-air success, he journeyed to Hollywood and began acting in feature films in the 1930s. During World War II, he served as a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, appearing in training and propaganda films. After the war, Reagan served as president of the Screen Actor's Guild from 1947 to 1952. At that time, he was a proponent of New Deal Democratic policies. He switched to the Republican Party in 1960.

Reagan delivered a rousing speech in support of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater at the Republican National Convention in 1964, which in effect launched his political career. After two terms as governor of California, he made a bid for the Republican presidential ticket in 1976, losing to Vice President Gerald Ford. In 1980, he gained the nomination and beat out embattled Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter to become president, ushering in a new era of conservatism in American politics.

This Day in History: The Day the Music Died

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This Day in History: The Day the Music Died
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On this day in 1959, rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error. Holly and his band, the Crickets, had just scored a No. 1 hit with "That'll Be the Day."

After mechanical difficulties with the tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Holly's band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.

This Day in History: Marines Raise Flag on Mt. Suribachi

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This Day in History: Marines Raise Flag on Mt. Suribachi
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On this day, during the battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island of Iwo Jima and a key strategic point.

Later, Marine commanders decide to raise a second, larger flag, an event which an Associated Press photographer captured on film. The resulting photograph became a defining image of the war.

This Day in History: FDR Escapes Assassination in Miami

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This Day in History: FDR Escapes Assassination in Miami
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On this day in 1933, a deranged, unemployed brick layer named Giuseppe Zangara shouts Too many people are starving! and fires a gun at America's president-elect, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Roosevelt had just delivered a speech in Miami's Bayfront Park from the back seat of his open touring car when Zangara opened fire with six rounds. Five people were hit. The president escaped injury but the mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak, who was also in attendance, received a mortal stomach wound in the attack.

Several men tackled the assailant and might have beaten him to death if Roosevelt had not intervened, telling the crowd to leave justice to the authorities. Zangara later claimed I don't hate Mr. Roosevelt personallyI hate all officials and anyone who is rich. He also told the FBI that chronic stomach pain led to his action: Since my stomach hurt I want to make even with the capitalists by kill the president. My stomach hurt long time [sic].

Zangara's extreme action reflected the anger and frustration felt among many working Americans during the Great Depression. At the time of the shooting, Roosevelt was still only the president-elect and had yet to be sworn in. His policies remained untested, but reports of Roosevelt's composure during the assassination attempt filled the following day's newspapers and did much to enforce Roosevelt's public image as a strong leader.

Unsubstantiated reports later claimed that Zangara's real target had been Cermak and hinted at Zangara's connection to organized crime in Chicago. Zangara was initially tried for attempted murder and sentenced to 80 years in prison, but when Mayor Cermak later died of his wounds, Zangara was retried and sentenced to death. Zangara died on the electric chair on March 5, 1933.

This Day in History: The Death of Saint Valentine

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This Day in History: The Death of Saint Valentine
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On February 14 around the year 278 A.D., Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed.

Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.

To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270.

Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it "From Your Valentine."

For his great service, Valentine was named a saint after his death.

This Day in History: America Meets The Beatles

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At approximately 8:12 p.m. Eastern time, Sunday, February 9, 1964, The Ed Sullivan Show returned from a commercial (for Anacin pain reliever), and there was Ed Sullivan standing before a restless crowd. He tried to begin his next introduction, but then stopped and extended his arms in the universal sign for "Settle Down." "Quiet!" he said with mock gravity, and the noise died down just a little. Then he resumed: "Here's a very amusing magician we saw in Europe and signed last summer....Let's have a nice hand for him—Fred Kaps!"

For the record, Fred Kaps proceeded to be quite charming and funny over the next five minutes. In fact, Fred Kaps is revered to this day by magicians around the world as the only three-time Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques Grand Prix winner. But Fred Kaps had the horrific bad luck on this day in 1964 to be the guest that followed the Beatles on Ed Sullivan—possibly the hardest act to follow in the history of show business.

It is estimated that 73 million Americans were watching that night as the Beatles made their live U.S. television debut. Roughly eight minutes before Fred Kaps took the stage, Sullivan gave his now-famous intro, "Ladies and gentlemen...the Beatles!" and after a few seconds of rapturous cheering from the audience, the band kicked into "All My Lovin'." Fifty seconds in, the first audience-reaction shot of the performance shows a teenage girl beaming and possibly hyperventilating. Two minutes later, Paul is singing another pretty, mid-tempo number: "Til There Was You," from the Broadway musical Music Man. There's screaming at the end of every phrase in the lyrics, of course, but to view the broadcast today, it seems driven more by anticipation than by the relatively low-key performance itself. And then came "She Loves You," and the place seems to explode. What followed was perhaps the most important two minutes and 16 seconds of music ever broadcast on American television—a sequence that still sends chills down the spine almost half a century later.

The Beatles would return later in the show to perform "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" as the audience remained at the same fever pitch it had reached during "She Loves You." This time it was Wells & the Four Fays, a troupe of comic acrobats, who had to suffer what Fred Kaps had after the Beatles' first set. Perhaps the only non-Beatle on Sullivan's stage that night who did not consider the evening a total loss was the young man from the Broadway cast of Oliver! who sang "I'd Do Anything" as the Artful Dodger midway through the show. His name was Davy Jones, and less than three years later, he'd star in a TV show of his own that owed a rather significant debt to the hysteria that began on this night in 1964: The Monkees.

This Day in History: February Revolution Begins in Russia

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This Day in History: February Revolution Begins in Russia
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On this day in history in Russia, the February Revolution (known as such because of Russia's use of the Julian calendar) begins on this day in 1917, when riots and strikes over the scarcity of food erupt in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg).

Demonstrators clamoring for bread took to the streets of the Russian capital of Petrograd. Supported by 90,000 men and women on strike, the protesters clashed with police, refusing to leave the streets.

Three days after the riots began and Russian army troops were sent to quell the protests, the troops turned against the Czar and became part of the protest. The imperial government was forced to resign and Nicolas abdicated his throne, formally ending over four centuries of Czarist rule in Russia.