20 Years Ago
After four centuries of quiet, Mount Pinatubo, on the Philippine island of Luzon, explodes June 15, 1991, sending more than a cubic mile of volcanic material some 22 miles into the air, while pyroclastic flows bury nearby valleys in debris 660 feet thick. The volcano’s gas cloud lowers global temperatures by a degree for three years. Predictions of the blow allow for evacuations, limiting deaths to some 700.
40 Years Ago
The New York Times reveals details from the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret history of U.S. actions in Indochina, June 13, 1971. Leaked by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg to reporter Neil Sheehan, the report exposes more extensive Vietnam involvement than known previously, including plans made by President Lyndon Johnson to invade while pledging not to. Efforts by the Nixon administration to halt publication end with a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling in favor of newspapers. Attempts by Nixon’s “plumbers” to discredit Ellsberg—charged with espionage—derail his prosecution (the charges are dismissed) and ultimately lead to the Watergate scandal.
60 Years Ago
Not Your Father’s Laptop
UNIVAC, the first commercially successful computer, gets an initial public workout in Philadelphia, June 14, 1951. Five years in the making by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly (inventors of the earlier ENIAC), UNIVAC (universal automatic computer) is 14 1/2 feet long, 7 1/2 feet wide and 8 feet high. Bought by the Census Bureau, it spits out demographic data at 120 facts per second. Forty-six UNIVACs, with prices starting at $600,000, will be sold for inventory, payroll, insurance and other business applications.
125 Years Ago
Grover Cleveland, 49, becomes the only president to marry in the White House when he weds Frances “Frank” Folsom, 21, in the Blue Room, June 2, 1886. While reporters obsess over event details—from the cake, a “twenty-five pound mass of dough and fruit,” to the “peculiar” stand-up reception—lawmakers purport to be more interested in a tax on margarine. Cleveland’s two (nonconsecutive) terms are marked by fiscal conservatism, veto power and the popularity of his wife, with whom he has five children.
160 Years Ago
Angered by the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes the first of 41 installments of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in an abolitionist weekly, June 5, 1851. She intends her novel about slaves Uncle Tom, who is sold and resold, and Eliza, who flees to save her child, to “awaken sympathy” for those suffering under a “cruel and unjust” system. In book form the following year, Cabin sells 300,000 copies and is credited with shaping perceptions leading to the Civil War. In time the novel’s stereotypes, exaggerated in minstrel show versions, alter attitudes toward Stowe’s hero, and “Uncle Tom” becomes a pejorative for a passive, subservient black man.