This Week in History: December 29-January 4

Featured Article, History, This Week in History
on December 29, 2013

If you think driving 70 mph is too slow, be glad the National Maximum Speed Law was repealed in 1995. This cost-saving effort set the national speed limit at 55 mph, slowing down drivers and reducing gas usage. See why it was implemented below.

December 29:
YMCA Formed
There was no need to feel down on this day in 1851 when the American incarnation of the YMCA was founded by Thomas Valentine Sullivan to suit the needs to traveling sailors and merchants. George Williams had founded the Young Men’s Christian Association in London in 1844, but Sullivan recognized similar needs in his Boston community seven years later. The YMCA now has 125 national associations and remains committed to helping people develop healthy bodies, minds and spirits.

December 30:
Davy Jones Birthday
1960s musical sensation and teen heartthrob Davy Jones was born on this day in 1945. Jones gained fame for his Tony-nominated role in a London production of “Oliver!” Jones is best remembered for being a member of the Monkees, the pop band whose hits include “I’m a Believer” and “Daydream Believer.” He appeared with the band in their eponymous television series as well as on other shows like “The Brady Bunch.” Jones continued to release music and act after the Monkees disbanded in 1971. He died in 2012.

lincoln-photographDecember 31:
Abraham Lincoln Admits West Virginia into the Union
Though the divisions existed in Virginia before the Civil War, regular statehood proceedings for the area now known as West Virginia were impeded by the outbreak of war; in May 1862, a newly organized state government in West Virginia approved the formation of the new state. On this day in 1862, President Lincoln signed an act that admitted West Virginia to the Union, provided the state make gradual moves toward abolition. This act was seen as illegal and unconstitutional. The state was officially admitted on June 20, 1863, after a state convention and after reaching the abolition demands.

January 1:
Emancipation Proclamation Effective
On this day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln wielded his executive power to free slaves in the rebelling states. The Emancipation Proclamation, initially issued in September 1862, took effect January 1, 1863, and freed some 3.1 million slaves. This executive order was not passed by Congress and did not make slavery illegal. The 13th Amendment, adopted in December 1865, abolished slavery in the U.S.

Euro Introduced
The official currency of the European Union, the euro, was introduced on this day in 1999. Financial institutions operated under the euro for about three years until coins and bills began circulating to the general public in early 2002. Eurozone countries stopped using native currencies by February 28, 2002. The eurozone now includes 18 nations, including Italy, France, Germany and Spain.

January 2:
55-Mile Speed Limit Enacted
Slow down and remember when the speed limit on interstate highways was 55 mph. On this day in 1974, President Richard Nixon signed legislation lowering the speed limits across the country in an attempt to save money on oil. The 1973 Arab oil crisis was wreaking havoc on the American wallet. Several states had already lowered speed limits; Nixon hoped that this slow down, coupled with gas restrictions, would cut gas consumption by 2.2 percent. States reacted to the law variably, with some ignoring the federal standard and slackening speeding enforcement. The National Maximum Speed Law was repealed in 1995, after many states had already begun changing their speed limits independently.

January 3:
Drinking Straw Patented
Drink up! On this day in 1888, journalist and inventor Marvin Stone patented the drinking straw. Made by winding paper strips on a pencil and sealing them with paraffin glue, Stone’s early models were designed to resist becoming soggy while drinking and to prevent the passage of small objects like lemon seeds through the straw. People had used ryegrass straws before Stone’s invention.

January 4:
Isaac Newton Birthday
The father of physics, Sir Isaac Newton, was born on this day in 1643 in Woolsthorpe, England. Famed for his research in optics, mathematics, astronomy and physics, Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” is considered one of the most important works of scientific literature ever created. Newton’s laws of motion defined physics until Albert Einstein’s research on relativity. He is also credited with developing calculus.