April 2011 Anniversaries | History | Smithsonian
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April 2011 Anniversaries

Momentous or Merely Memorable

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40 Years Ago
Turning the Tables

In the first volley of so-called "Ping-Pong diplomacy," the U.S. table tennis team arrives in Beijing April 10, 1971. The visit, likely prompted by news coverage of a friendly exchange between a Chinese team member and an American player in Japan, is the first by an official American delegation to be allowed into China since the Communist takeover in 1949. The event marks a mutual thaw in Sino-American relations: as the two teams play a series of exhibition matches, the U.S. relaxes its trade embargo. President Nixon travels to Beijing in 1972.

50 Years Ago
Cosmos Columbus

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, 27, becomes the first human in space April 12, 1961, when he reaches an altitude of 187 miles and orbits the Earth in a 108-minute flight aboard Vostok 1. The ship's return is controlled from the ground—to avoid any effects of weightlessness on Gagarin— and the cosmonaut ejects in a parachute, landing on solid ground. "The sky is very dark; the earth is bluish," he reports. A month later the space race escalates when President Kennedy pledges to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. Gagarin dies in a plane crash in 1968.

60 Years Ago
You're Fired!

President Harry Truman fires Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the commander of U.N. forces fighting in Korea, on April 11, 1951. MacArthur's public criticism of Truman's policy to wage a limited war, and his unauthorized threat to attack China if there is no quick truce, amount to "rank insubordination," Truman (below left: with MacArthur at a 1950 Wake Island strategy session) writes in his diary. MacArthur, a popular World War II hero, arrives home to ticker tape parades; a later Senate investigation of the dismissal supports the president's action. Truman appoints Lt. Gen. Matthew Ridgway to replace MacArthur in Korea, where the war ends in an armistice in 1953.

170 Years Ago
Going Ape

"To observe attentively is to remember distinctly," Edgar Allan Poe writes in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," published April 20, 1841. In what many consider the first modern detective story, sleuth C. Auguste Dupin uses observation and analysis to solve a grisly murder in a locked room—the butler didn't do it. Poe follows the success with two more Dupin stories. He dies at age 40 in 1849.

390 Years Ago
Coming to Terms

In April 1621 John Carver, governor of the new colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts, agrees to an alliance with Massasoit Osemequin, leader of the Wampanoag tribe. Each pledges not to hurt the other's people and to unite in defense against the other's enemies. Massasoit seeks an ally in a potential war with Narragansett tribe members, who greatly outnumber the Wampanoag; the pilgrims gain safety and a source of intelligence about their new home. The treaty lasts until the 1675 onset of King Philip's War. In 2011 it is commemorated on the reverse of the Sacagawea one-dollar coin.

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