This Month in History
Momentous or Merely Memorable
40 Years Ago
He’s Got Game
Ten years after becoming America’s first man in space, Alan Shepard takes a break on a return trip, this time as commander of Apollo 14, to hit a couple of golf balls on the Moon February 6, 1971. His makeshift club—a 6-iron head attached to a sample collector handle—“was very clumsy with our suits” he later recalls, but with the Moon’s lower gravitational force, the ball travels about 200 yards instead of the 30 it might have on Earth. The Apollo 14 astronauts spend nine hours exploring the lunar surface and collect 100 pounds of rocks before returning home February 9.
70 Years Ago
With war on the horizon, the United Service Organizations forms in New York February 4, 1941, when several national charities band together to raise the morale (and morals) of American troops by supplying recreation, education and entertainment. In May, Bob Hope stars in the first of the 400,000 camp shows the USO puts on before it disbands in 1947. Reinstated in 1951, the USO, now active in 27 countries, sends two million care packages as of 2010. Bob Hope leads nearly 200 USO shows and is named an honorary veteran in 1997.
140 Years Ago
Doing It Naturally
After explaining evolution in On the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin examines its role in human lineage in February 1871 in The Descent of Man. His big ideas—people belong to a single species descended from an ancestor shared with other mammals, and sexual selection, or competition for the opposite sex, can account for variations—are now mainstays of biology.
150 Years Ago
Jefferson Davis is inaugurated the first president of the newly organized Confederate States of America in Montgomery, Alabama, on February 18, 1861. A former U.S. senator from Mississippi, Davis affirms in his inaugural speech that “governments rest on the consent of the governed” and calls for an army and navy to prepare for conflict. The next year, with the Civil War raging, he appoints Robert E. Lee leader of the Army of Northern Virginia. Captured in 1865, Davis is charged with treason, but never tried. He dies in 1889, age 81.
175 Years Ago
A Battle to Remember
“Victory or Death,” writes Alamo garrison leader William Travis of his intent to fight for Texas’ independence from Mexico at the former San Antonio mission, besieged by the Mexican Army beginning February 23, 1836. For 13 days, fewer than 200 men, including Tennessee frontiersman Davy Crockett, defend the Alamo against some 2,500 Mexican soldiers, before being routed on March 6 in a final assault. The deaths of the Alamo defenders, on the heels of a March 2 Declaration of Independence, rally Texas fighters, who defeat the Mexican Army in April at the Battle of San Jacinto.