This Week in History: July 14-20

Featured Article, History, This Week in History, Traditions
on July 14, 2013
Locust swarms such as this attacked U.S. farmers' crops in 1874.

Humanity defied the building blocks of the universe this week in 1945 with the successful test of the atomic bomb. Couple that with a deadly structural collapse and the largest plague of locusts to hit the country, and this week in history is anything but peaceful.

July 14:
Birmingham Riots of 1791

On the evening of July 14, 1791, rioters stormed Joseph Priestley’s home in Birmingham, England. Incensed by Priestley’s religious and American- and French-leaning political sentiments, the angry mob burned down his house. The mob controlled the town for three days. Response from London was lax, and some local officials may have been involved in the planning of the riots. The rioters’ ire flared on this particular day, the two-year anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille and spiritual beginning of the French Revolution. Priestley, a scientist who discovered oxygen, fled Birmingham and traveled to London before eventually moving to America in 1794.

July 15:
“One Life to Live” Premiere

On this day in 1968, audiences were introduced to the residents of Llanview, Penn., on the long-running soap opera “One Life to Live.” The show was novel in its treatment of race and modern social issues, being the first to feature an interracial relationship. While maintaining the typical soap trope of rich family juxtaposed against poor family, “One Life to Live” took risks in storytelling, utilizing time-travel, out-of-body experiences and multiple characters with multiple personalities. Created by famed soap opera writer Agnes Nixon, the show ended in January 2012 with more than 11,000 episodes. Past performers include Laurence Fishburne, Blair Underwood, Judith Light and Tommy Lee Jones.

July 16:
Atomic Bomb Tested

Humanity first realized the power of the atom on this day in 1945. At Alamogordo Air Base in New Mexico, the first atomic bomb was detonated at 5:30 a.m., destroying all plant and animal life within a mile radius. The plutonium bomb created a mushroom cloud that reached 41,000 feet. The heat created at the detonation site was three times hotter than the inside of the sun. The Manhattan Project, a secret government undertaking to create an atomic weapon, had finally proved its $2 billion worth. J. Robert Oppenheimer, a key figure in the Manhattan Project, later remarked that upon seeing the results of the test, he thought of a line from the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

July 17:
Kansas City Skywalk Collapse

One of the deadliest structure collapses in U.S. history happened today in 1981, when, during an evening dance at the year-old Kansas City Hyatt Regency, two suspended walkways broke free and fell upon patrons. Many dancers were standing on the walkways at the time of the collapse. Of the 1,500 attendees, 216 were injured and 114 died. The Truman Medical Center’s morgue filled with bodies; some were stacked on the floor as space was made available. Slapdash engineering oversight of the skywalks caused the collapse. This forced a review in engineering practice and stricter standards.

July 18:
Presidential Succession Act

The commander in chief’s office was secured in the event of his death on this day in 1947. President Harry Truman signed an executive order declaring that, if the president died or was temporarily incapacitated, the vice president, followed by the speaker of the House, and then the president pro tem of the Senate would assume the executive office. In 1967, this order was adopted as the 25th Amendment.

July 19:
Elvis’ First Single

Music fans could get their hands on the King’s first recording on this day in 1954. Sun Records released Elvis Presley’s cover of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right” to instant success. Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips had played the song on the air two weeks prior and listeners were ravenous for more. The song “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was the B-side of the record.

July 20:
Locust Plague of 1874

In late July 1874, a swarm of Rocky Mountain locusts 124 billion strong swept across the Great Plains devastating farms and causing economic ruin. Some accounts claim that the locust horde was so large that it blocked out the sun. The locusts extended 1,800 miles from the border of Canada down through the Plains and into Texas. After the large swarm had somewhat dissipated, smaller broods continued to pester farmers for years. Farmers lost an estimated $200 million in crops.