20 Years Ago
The Hubble Space Telescope is deployed 353 miles above Earth on April 25, 1990. After a 1993 mission corrects its vision, the school bus-size telescope’s images—including galaxies in all stages, protoplanetary disks and stellar nurseries—alter our understanding of the nature of the universe.
40 Years Ago
Getting Down To Earth
In an effort to put ecological issues on the national political agenda, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin founds Earth Day, April 22, 1970, as a national “teach-in” on environmental degradation. Taking a page from campus antiwar demonstrations, organizers across the country stage grass-roots events—cars are banned on much of New York City’s Fifth Avenue; children ride horses down highways in Takoma, Washington—that draw an estimated 20 million people. By year’s end the Environmental Protection Agency has opened in Washington, D.C. Gaylord Nelson dies in 2005.
75 Years Ago
Dust To Dust
April 14, 1935, dawns clear, but by afternoon the worst dust storm of the “dirty Thirties” strikes across the Great Plains. “It rolled, it didn’t just dust,” Arthur Leonard of Dodge City, Kansas, will later remember. “It was coal black and it was terrible.” The result of prolonged drought and the removal of erosion-stopping sod from the prairies by over-plowing, “Black Sunday” removes an estimated 300,000 tons of topsoil from the area afterward known as the Dust Bowl. By 1940, dust storm devastation will force hundreds of thousands of people to relocate.
110 Years Ago
Come All You Rounders
Illinois Central Railroad engineer John Luther “Casey” Jones, 37, making up for lost time on the Canton, Mississippi-bound “New Orleans Special” on the foggy morning of April 30, 1900, rounds a turn to see freight cars in his path. As his fireman jumps to safety, Jones goes into reverse and pulls the air brakes, but his engine slams through the freight train’s caboose before stopping. Though the railroad will blame the wreck on Jones, his dying actions save all his passengers, and he rides into folk legend through the many versions of “The Ballad of Casey Jones.”
150 Years Ago
At the sound of a cannon in St. Joseph, Missouri, a bay mare and her rider race toward San Francisco, 1,800 miles away, in the April 3, 1860, inaugural run of the Pony Express. The 49 letters and 5 telegrams the pair carry will reach California 11 days and some 75 horses and 20 riders later, 10 days faster than stagecoach times. For 18 months the Express fights weather, wild terrain, Indians and robbers to speed mail to settlers lured west by land, gold and religious freedom, losing only one shipment. It yields to the telegraph, which links East Coast to West in October 1861.