April Anniversaries

Momentous or Merely Memorable

A player wearing an old-fashioned catcher's mask
A player wearing an old-fashioned catcher's mask Wikimedia Commons

60 YEARS AGO: Home Run
"I am certain I can win them over in Brooklyn," asserts infielder Jackie Robinson, 28, on April 11, 1947, as he signs with the Dodgers to become the first African-American player in baseball's Major Leagues. Calmly enduring racial taunting, Robinson runs and steals bases with aggressive style and, by 1949, is named the National League's Most Valuable Player. Retiring with a .311 batting average in 1957, he is elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962. Robinson dies in 1972 at age 53.

75 YEARS AGO: The Fever Breaks
Researchers at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City announce the discovery of an effective vaccine for yellow fever, on April 29, 1932. It is made, in part, from serum from six colleagues accidentally infected in the lab. Within four years, 85 lab workers are vaccinated, and the accidents end. Yellow fever vaccine becomes widely available in 1937; while some 300 million doses are given by the 1990s, lapses in vaccinations lead to a disease resurgence in West Africa.

90 YEARS AGO: Getting Into It
After three years of neutrality while battles raged in Europe, the United States declares war on Germany on April 6, 1917. In the face of anti-war demonstrations, President Woodrow Wilson asks for the "undivided and willing support" of the American people. The first U.S. troops, under Gen. John Pershing, arrive in France in June. More than two million Americans will fight—and 116,000 die—before war's end in November 1918.

100 YEARS AGO: Go Navy
U.S. Naval Academy bandmaster Charles "Zimmy" Zimmerman copyrights Anchors Aweigh, the football march he composed for the class of 1907. With words by Midshipman Alfred Miles—"Sail Navy down the field and sink the Army, sink the Army Grey"—the song has become an "old favorite" by 1913. With later additional lyrics by George Lottman, it remains the U.S. Navy's unofficial march. Zimmerman dies in 1916, at age 54.

130 YEARS AGO: Saving Face
Harvard baseball player James Tyng sports a catcher's mask—the first time the contraption is used in regular-season play—in a game against the Lynn Live Oaks on April 12, 1877. To protect Tyng from the new—and painful—curveball, team captain Fred Thayer bases the design on a fencing mask. Tyng makes far fewer errors, and Thayer patents the mask in 1878.

190 YEARS AGO: Signs of the Time
Thomas Gallaudet and Mason Cogswell open America's first school for deaf students, in a hotel in Hartford, Connecticut, on April 15, 1817. Gallaudet, who imports French teaching methods and sign language, is its first principal; Cogswell's daughter, Alice, the first pupil. Located in West Hartford since 1921, the American School of the Deaf, as it is known today, becomes a model for deaf education and a training ground for deaf teachers.

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