20 Years Ago
Something There Is...
The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 to stop emigration from communist East Germany, cracks November 9, 1989, when the country, again facing a mass exodus—this time through its newly democratized Eastern Bloc neighbors—allows two-way travel between East and West Berlin. Thousands cross within hours, and souvenir hunters soon reduce the wall to rubble. Germany reunites the following October.
50 Years Ago
"I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception," Charles Van Doren admits on November 2, 1959, to a House subcommittee investigating the rigging of TV quiz shows about having been fed the answers while a contestant on "Twenty-One." Money was a motivator, he says, but of his $129,000 winnings, "taxes took more than half of it, and the lawyers took a big part." He pleads guilty to a misdemeanor. Van Doren, now 83, goes on to edit Encyclopaedia Britannica, and declines a paid consulting job on the 1994 film Quiz Show.
140 Years Ago
Princeton takes on Rutgers in the first American college football game, November 6, 1869, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The 25 helmetless men on each team play a game more similar to soccer and rugby than today's football, which will not evolve for several years. "Princeton had the most muscle," Rutgers' newspaper reports, but despite scoring a point against themselves, Rutgers wins 6-4. Some 48 million people will attend 3,493 National Collegiate Athletic Association football games in 2008.
140 Years Ago
Cut To The Chase
A flotilla of some 45 ships, carrying French Empress Eugenie and other dignitaries, makes the first crossing when the Suez Canal opens to shipping on November 17, 1869. Built over ten years by Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps with French and Egyptian backing—and thousands of forced Egyptian laborers—the 101-mile canal, from Port Said on the Mediterranean to Suez on the Red Sea, eliminates a trip around Africa for ships sailing between Europe and Asia. In 1956, Egyptian President Nasser nationalizes the canal, provoking an invasion by Israel, the United Kingdom and France; Egypt retains control of the waterway. Today more than 21,000 ships use it annually.
150 Years Ago
Birds Do It
Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species, "the chief work of my life," November 22, 1859. In it he marshals 20 years of biological and geological observations to support his theory that the descent—he will not use the word "evolution" until 1872—of all creatures is governed by natural selection, "the preservation of favorable variations, and the rejection of injurious variations." The first printing of 1,250 copies sells out in a day, and Origin lays the groundwork for modern scientific thought.