20 Years Ago
President George H.W. Bush orders U.S. troops to Panama, where military strongman Manuel Noriega, having nullified election results in order to have himself declared the country's leader, announced a state of war with the United States. Spurred by violence against three American servicemen, the invasion begins December 20, 1989; some 20,000 U.S. troops battle to secure the capital. Noriega surrenders January 3, and, convicted of drug trafficking, is sent to U.S. prison. He remains in custody in 2009, fighting extradition.
50 Years Ago
The United States and 11 other nations agree, on December 1, 1959, to keep Antarctica a peaceful place of scientific research. The Antarctic Treaty, signed in Washington, D.C., bans nuclear testing and the dumping of radioactive waste, freezes territorial claims and fosters scientific cooperation. Today 47 countries have signed on, and scientists at over 100 research stations pursue subjects—in addition to the hole in the ozone layer, first reported in 1985—from the continent's biodiversity and geology to climate evolution.
70 Years Ago
The long-awaited film version of Margaret Mitchell's Civil War saga Gone With the Wind (1936) premières in Atlanta December 15, 1939. Some 2,000 people, including four Confederate veterans—but not black actress Hattie McDaniel, barred for her race—enter the theater's faux plantation facade to see the four-hour epic , which will win eight Oscars.
70 Years Ago
The Nose Knows
Montgomery Ward copywriter Robert L. May introduces a reindeer with an unusual talent to American children when the store hands out more than two million copies of his story verse Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in December 1939. Eight years later, Montgomery Ward gives May the rights to the tale of Rudolph's foggy flight; the reindeer soars to the top of the music charts in 1949 after Gene Autry records a song about him written by May's brother-in law, Johnny Marks. An animated television special, aired annually since 1964, ensures that Rudolph will "go down in his-tor-ee."
140 Years Ago
Go West, Young Woman
The women of the recently organized Wyoming Territory are the first American females since 1807 to gain the right to vote, when Gov. John Campbell signs their enfranchisement into law December 10, 1869. Some speculate it's a ploy to attract potential wives to the state, where men outnumber women six to one, or to keep white voters in the majority. When in 1890 Wyoming applies for statehood, it successfully insists—despite Congressional pressure—that votes for women be included in its new constitution.