U.S. World Cup team wins unlikely victory over England

Year
1950
Month Day
June 25

On June 25, 1950, an American team composed largely of amateurs defeated its more polished English opponents at the World Cup, held in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Dubbed the “Miracle on Green,” the game is considered one of the greatest soccer upsets of all time.

The English team at the time, known as the “Kings of Football,” boasted a record of 23 victories, four losses and three draws in the years since World War II ended. Its members were professional footballers culled from England’s domestic leagues. The Americans, by contrast, had lost their last seven international matches. Hastily assembled just days before the match against England, the U.S. team included a dishwasher, two mailmen, a teacher and a mill worker. The Belfast Telegram described them as “a band of no-hopers drawn from many lands,” ostensibly because some of the men were recent immigrants to the United States.

By the time the two teams squared off at Belo Horizonte, bookies had given the Brits 3-1 odds to take the World Cup, compared to 500-1 for the Americans. The newly appointed American coach, Bill Jeffrey, apparently agreed with them, telling a British reporter, “We have no chance.”

The game began with the Americans on the defense as the English assailed them with one clear shot on goal after another. The goalkeeper, Frank Borghi, a former minor league catcher who now drove a hearse in St. Louis, managed to tip each one. Finally, with less than 10 minutes to go in the first half, U.S. midfielder Walter Bahr centered a ball from 25 yards out, and Haitian-born forward Joe Gaetjens scored with a diving header. England lashed back with a battery of shots throughout the second half, but nothing got past Borghi. The no-hopers had defeated the Kings of Football with a single goal. The 30,000 Brazilians in the stands went wild, knowing that a British loss could help their own team fare better in the tournament. Gaetjens, who would later return to Haiti and disappear during François Duvalier’s repressive regime, was carried off the field in celebration.

Appalled English fans could not fathom that the Americans had beaten them at their own game. In the United States, meanwhile, the improbable win barely made a ripple. Only one American journalist had traveled to Brazil for the World Cup in the first place: Dent McSkimming of the St. Louis Dispatch, who paid his own way when his newspaper would not send him. He later said that the American victory was “as if Oxford University sent a baseball team over here and it beat the Yankees.”

Why didn’t this David-and-Goliath story make American headlines? For one thing, soccer had never captured the same U.S. fan base as football, baseball or basketball. Newspapers also had a more alarming matter to cover: On June 29, four days before the game, North Korea had crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea, and President Truman had already ordered U.S. forces to intervene. Just six years after World War II, the country was once again on the brink of war.

After the upset, both teams were quickly eliminated and returned to their respective sides of the Atlantic–the Brits chastened, the Americans essentially ignored. It would be 16 years before England won its first and only World Cup title. The United States, meanwhile, would not even appear in the tournament again until 1990. On June 12, 2010, the teams met again at the World Cup in Rustenburg, South Africa, and again England was the favorite. That match, which was the fifth most-watched soccer game in U.S. history, ended in a draw.

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First U.S. fatality in the Korean War

Year
1950
Month Day
July 05

Near Sojong, South Korea, Private Kenneth Shadrick, a 19-year-old infantryman from Skin Fork, West Virginia, becomes the first American reported killed in the Korean War. Shadrick, a member of a bazooka squad, had just fired the weapon at a Soviet-made tank when he looked up to check his aim and was cut down by enemy machine-gun fire.

Near the end of World War II, the “Big Three” Allied powers–the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain–agreed to divide Korea into two separate occupation zones and temporarily govern the nation. The country was split along the 38th parallel, with Soviet forces occupying the northern zone and Americans stationed in the south. By 1949, separate Korean governments had been established, and both the United States and the USSR withdrew the majority of their troops from the Korean Peninsula. The 38th parallel was heavily fortified on both sides, but the South Koreans were unprepared for the hordes of North Korean troops and Soviet-made tanks that suddenly rolled across the border on June 25, 1950.

Two days later, President Harry Truman announced that the United States would intervene in the Korean conflict to stem the spread of communism, and on June 28 the United Nations approved the use of force against communist North Korea. In the opening months of the war, the U.S.-led U.N. forces rapidly advanced against the North Koreans, but in October, Chinese communist troops entered the fray, throwing the Allies into a hasty retreat. By May 1951, the communists were pushed back to the 38th parallel, where the battle line remained for the rest of the war.

In 1953, an armistice was signed, ending the war and reestablishing the 1945 division of Korea that still exists today. Approximately 150,000 troops from South Korea, the United States, and participating U.N. nations were killed in the Korean War, and as many as one million South Korean civilians perished. An estimated 800,000 communist soldiers were killed, and more than 200,000 North Korean civilians died.

The original figure of American troops lost–54,246 killed–became controversial when the Pentagon acknowledged in 2000 that all U.S. troops killed around the world during the period of the Korean War were incorporated into that number. For example, any American soldier killed in a car accident anywhere in the world from June 1950 to July 1953 was considered a casualty of the Korean War. If these deaths are subtracted from the 54,246 total, leaving just the Americans who died (from whatever cause) in the Korean theater of operations, the total U.S. dead in the Korean War numbers 36,516.

READ MORE: The Korean War Hasn’t Officially Ended. One Reason: POWs

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Republic of India born


Year
1950
Month Day
January 26

On January 26, 1950, the Indian constitution takes effect, making the Republic of India the most populous democracy in the world.

Mohandas Gandhi struggled through decades of passive resistance before Britain finally accepted Indian independence. Self-rule had been promised during World War II, but after the war triangular negotiations between Gandhi, the British, and the Muslim League stalled over whether to partition India along religious lines. Eventually, Lord Mountbatten, the viceroy of India, forced through a compromise plan. On August 15, 1947, the former Mogul Empire was divided into the independent nations of India and Pakistan. Gandhi called the agreement the “noblest act of the British nation,” but religious strife between Hindus and Muslims soon marred his exhilaration. Hundreds of thousands died, including Gandhi, who was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic in January 1948 during a prayer vigil to an area of Muslim-Hindu violence.

Of Gandhi’s death, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said, “The light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere.” However, Nehru, a leader of the Indian struggle for independence and Gandhi’s protege, persisted in his efforts to stabilize India, and by 1949 the religious violence began to subside. In late 1949, an Indian constitution was adopted, and on January 26, 1950, the Republic of India was born.

With universal adult franchise, Nehru hoped to overcome India’s “caste-ridden” society and promote greater gender equality. Elections were to be held at least every five years, and India’s government was modeled after the British parliamentary system. A president would hold the largely ceremonial post of head of state but would be given greater powers in times of emergency. The first president was Rajendra Prasad.

Nehru, who won his first of three subsequent elections in 1952, was faced with staggering challenges. A massively underdeveloped economy and overpopulation contributed to widespread poverty. Nehru also had to force the integration of the former princely states into the Indian union and suppress movements for greater autonomy in states like Punjab. 

In his years of struggle against Britain, he always advocated nonviolence but as prime minister sometimes had to stray from this policy. He sent troops into the Portuguese enclaves of Goa and Daman and fought with China over Kashmir and Nepal. He died in 1964 and was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri. Later, Nehru’s only child, Indira Gandhi, served four terms as a controversial prime minister of India.

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“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is the #1 song on the U.S. pop charts


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Year
1950
Month Day
January 07

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen because of the 1823 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (aka “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”), but your knowledge of Rudolph—the most famous reindeer of all—comes courtesy of a department store copywriter named Robert L. May, May’s songwriter brother-in-law who set his words to music and the singing cowboy who made a household name of May’s creation.

The story of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” begins in 1939 at Montgomery Ward, the Chicago-based retail and catalog giant. Seeking a cheaper holiday giveaway than the children’s coloring books they had purchased and distributed in years past, Montgomery Ward asked its own marketing department to create a new and original Christmas storybook from scratch. The task fell to May, a family man with a four-year-old daughter. The story that May wrote was given away to more than 2 million Montgomery Ward customers in 1939. It was not until May’s brother-in-law adapted the story into song almost 10 years later, however, that “Rudolph” truly entered the national consciousness.

READ MORE: The Origins of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

May’s brother-in-law was a professional songwriter named Johnny Marks, best known for works like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (1958) and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (1962) in addition to “Rudolph.” In 1949, Marks’ song found its way to radio legend Gene Autry, the original Singing Cowboy, whose recording of “Rudolph” sold more than 2 million units in its first year alone on its way to becoming the second-most successful Christmas record in history (after “White Christmas”).

It is at this point in the story of “Rudolph” when those with a nose for legal issues begin to wonder who owned the rights to the beloved Christmas story and money-making juggernaut. In fact, as a paid employee of Montgomery Ward, author Robert L. May had no legal claim whatsoever to an ownership stake in “Rudolph.” Furthermore, May was a widowed single father by 1947, facing enormous debts as a result of his wife’s terminal illness. Yet in a twist that will boggle the minds and warm the hearts of those hardened to the ways of modern American capitalism, the president of Montgomery Ward, one Sewell Avery, signed over to Robert L. May 100 percent of the “Rudolph” copyright in January 1947. May lived comfortably on the royalties from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” until his death in 1976.

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Truman announces development of H-bomb


Year
1950
Month Day
January 31

U.S. President Harry S. Truman publicly announces his decision to support the development of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon theorized to be hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II.

Five months earlier, the United States had lost its nuclear supremacy when the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb at their test site in Kazakhstan. Then, several weeks after that, British and U.S. intelligence came to the staggering conclusion that German-born Klaus Fuchs, a top-ranking scientist in the U.S. nuclear program, was a spy for the Soviet Union. These two events, and the fact that the Soviets now knew everything that the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb, led Truman to approve massive funding for the superpower race to complete the world’s first “superbomb,” as he described it in his public announcement on January 31.

On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, on the Elugelab Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device, built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion, instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. The incredible explosive force of Mike was also apparent from the sheer magnitude of its mushroom cloud–within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.

Three years later, on November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb on the same principle of radiation implosion. Both superpowers were now in possession of the “hell bomb,” as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history.

READ MORE: Atomic Bomb History

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MacArthur named Korean commander

Year
1950
Month Day
July 08

The day after the U.N. Security Council recommended that all U.N. forces in Korea be placed under the command of the U.S. military, General Douglas MacArthur is appointed head of the United Nations Command by President Harry S. Truman.

MacArthur, the son of a top-ranking army general who fought in the Civil War, was commissioned as an army lieutenant in 1903. During World War I, MacArthur served as a commander of the famed 84th Infantry Brigade. During the 1920s, he was stationed primarily in the Philippines, a U.S. commonwealth, and in the first half of the 1930s he served as U.S. Army chief of staff. In 1935, with Japanese expansion underway in the Pacific, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed MacArthur military adviser to the government of the Philippines. In 1941, five months before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, he was named commander of all U.S. armed forces in the Pacific.

After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, he conducted the defense of the Philippines against great odds. In March 1942, with Japanese victory imminent, Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to Australia, but the American general famously promised the Philippines “I shall return.” Five months later, the great U.S. counteroffensive against Japan began. On October 20, 1944, after advancing island by island across the South Pacific, MacArthur waded onto the Philippines’ shores. Eleven months later, he officiated the Japanese surrender and then served as the effective ruler of Japan during a productive five-year occupation.

After North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, MacArthur was appointed supreme commander of the U.S.-led U.N. force sent to aid the South. In September, he organized a risky but highly successful landing at Inchon, and by October North Korean forces had been driven back across the 38th parallel. With President Truman’s approval, U.N. forces crossed into North Korea and advanced all the way to the Yalu River–the border between North Korea and communist China–despite warnings that this would provoke Chinese intervention. When China did intervene, forcing U.N. forces into a desperate retreat, MacArthur pressed for permission to bomb China. President Truman, fearing the Cold War implications of an expanded war in the Far East, refused. MacArthur then publicly threatened to escalate hostilities with China in defiance of Truman’s stated war policy, leading Truman to fire him on April 11, 1951.

For his action against General MacArthur, the celebrated hero of the war against Japan, Truman was subjected to a torrent of attacks, and some Republicans called for his impeachment. On April 17, MacArthur returned to U.S. soil for the first time since before World War II and was given a hero’s welcome. Two days later, he announced the end of his military career before a joint meeting of Congress, declaring, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” After unsuccessfully running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1952, MacArthur did indeed fade from public view. He died in 1964.

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American diplomat Ralph Bunche receives Nobel Peace Prize


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Year
1950
Month Day
December 10

For his peace mediation during the first Arab-Israeli war, American diplomat Ralph Joseph Bunche receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. Bunche was the first African American to win the prestigious award.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1904, he entered the field of U.S. diplomacy while serving in the Office of Strategic Services and the State Department during the 1940s. In 1947, he was appointed to the United Nations and served as an aide on the U.N. Palestine Commission, a special committee formed to seek an end to the crisis over Israel’s movement toward independence. When the chief U.N. mediator between Israel and its Arab opponents died in early 1949, Bunche was thrust into a leading role in the process and proved instrumental in the successful negotiation of a cease-fire between the warring parties.

After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Bunche continued his important role at the U.N. and was noted for his expertise on colonial affairs and race relations. He died in 1971.

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President Truman orders U.S. forces to Korea

Year
1950
Month Day
June 27

On June 27, 1950, President Harry S. Truman announces that he is ordering U.S. air and naval forces to South Korea to aid the democratic nation in repulsing an invasion by communist North Korea. The United States was undertaking the major military operation, he explained, to enforce a United Nations resolution calling for an end to hostilities, and to stem the spread of communism in Asia. In addition to ordering U.S. forces to Korea, Truman also deployed the U.S. 7th Fleet to Formosa (Taiwan) to guard against invasion by communist China and ordered an acceleration of military aid to French forces fighting communist guerrillas in Vietnam.

At the Yalta Conference towards the end of World War II, the United States, the USSR, and Great Britain agreed to divide Korea into two separate occupation zones. The country was split along the 38th parallel, with Soviet forces occupying the northern zone and Americans stationed in the south. In 1947, the United States and Great Britain called for free elections throughout Korea, but the Soviets refused to comply. In May 1948 the Korean Democratic People’s Republic—a communist state—was proclaimed in North Korea. In August, the democratic Republic of Korea was established in South Korea. By 1949, both the United States and the USSR had withdrawn the majority of their troops from the Korean Peninsula.

READ MORE: FDR, Churchill and Stalin: Inside Their Uneasy WWII Alliance

At dawn on June 25, 1950 (June 24 in the United States and Europe), 90,000 communist troops of the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea across the 38th parallel, catching the Republic of Korea’s forces completely off guard and throwing them into a hasty southern retreat. On the afternoon of June 25, the U.N. Security Council met in an emergency session and approved a U.S. resolution calling for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” and the withdrawal of North Korean forces to the 38th parallel. At the time, the USSR was boycotting the Security Council over the U.N.’s refusal to admit the People’s Republic of China and so missed its chance to veto this and other crucial U.N. resolutions.

On June 27, President Truman announced to the nation and the world that America would intervene in the Korean conflict in order to prevent the conquest of an independent nation by communism. Truman was suggesting that the USSR was behind the North Korean invasion, and in fact the Soviets had given tacit approval to the invasion, which was carried out with Soviet-made tanks and weapons. Despite the fear that U.S. intervention in Korea might lead to open warfare between the United States and Russia after years of “cold war,” Truman’s decision was met with overwhelming approval from Congress and the U.S. public. Truman did not ask for a declaration of war, but Congress voted to extend the draft and authorized Truman to call up reservists.

On June 28, the Security Council met again and in the continued absence of the Soviet Union passed a U.S. resolution approving the use of force against North Korea. On June 30, Truman agreed to send U.S. ground forces to Korea, and on July 7 the Security Council recommended that all U.N. forces sent to Korea be put under U.S. command. The next day, General Douglas MacArthur was named commander of all U.N. forces in Korea.

READ MORE: The Most Harrowing Battle of the Korean War

In the opening months of the war, the U.S.-led U.N. forces rapidly advanced against the North Koreans, but Chinese communist troops entered the fray in October, throwing the Allies into a hasty retreat. In April 1951, Truman relieved MacArthur of his command after he publicly threatened to bomb China in defiance of Truman’s stated war policy. Truman feared that an escalation of fighting with China would draw the Soviet Union into the Korean War.

By May 1951, the communists were pushed back to the 38th parallel, and the battle line remained in that vicinity for the remainder of the war. On July 27, 1953, after two years of negotiation, an armistice was signed, ending the war and reestablishing the 1945 division of Korea that still exists today. Approximately 150,000 troops from South Korea, the United States, and participating U.N. nations were killed in the Korean War, and as many as one million South Korean civilians perished. An estimated 800,000 communist soldiers were killed, and more than 200,000 North Korean civilians died.

The original figure of American troops lost–54,246 killed–became controversial when the Pentagon acknowledged in 2000 that all U.S. troops killed around the world during the period of the Korean War were incorporated into that number. For example, any American soldier killed in a car accident anywhere in the world from June 1950 to July 1953 was considered a casualty of the Korean War. If these deaths are subtracted from the 54,000 total, leaving just the Americans who died (from whatever cause) in the Korean theater of operations, the total U.S. dead in the Korean War numbers 36,516.

READ MORE: The Korean War Hasn’t Officially Ended. One Reason: POWs

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L. Ron Hubbard publishes “Dianetics”

Year
1950
Month Day
May 09

On May 9, 1950, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (1911-1986) publishes Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. With this book, Hubbard introduced a branch of self-help psychology called Dianetics, which quickly caught fire and, over time, morphed into a belief system called Scientology.

Hubbard was already a prolific and frequently published writer by the time he penned the book that would change his life. Under several pseudonyms in the 1930s, he published a great amount of pulp fiction, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genres. In late 1949, having returned from serving in the Navy in World War II, Hubbard began publishing articles in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction, a magazine that published works by the likes of Isaac Asimov and Jack Williamson. Out of these grew the elephantine text known as Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.

In Dianetics, Hubbard explained that phenomena known as “engrams” (i.e. memories) were the cause of all psychological pain, which in turn harmed mental and physical health. He went on to claim that people could become “clear,” achieving an exquisite state of clarity and mental liberation, by exorcising their engrams to an “auditor,” or a listener acting as therapist.

Though discredited by the medical and scientific establishment, over 100,000 copies of Dianetics were sold in the first two years of publication, and Hubbard soon found himself lecturing across the country. He went on to write six more books in 1951, developing a significant fan base, and establishing the Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Despite his fast-growing popularity from books and touring, strife within his organization and Hubbard’s own personal troubles nearly crippled his success. Several of his research foundations had to be abandoned due to financial troubles and he went through a divorce from his second wife.

By 1953, however, Hubbard was able to rebound from the widespread condemnation beginning to be heaped upon him, and introduced Scientology. Scientology expanded on Dianetics by bringing Hubbard’s popular version of psychotherapy into the realm of philosophy, and ultimately, religion. In only a few years, Hubbard found himself at the helm of a movement that captured the popular imagination. As Scientology grew in the 1960s, several national governments became suspicious of Hubbard, accusing him of quackery and brainwashing his followers. Nonetheless, Hubbard built his religion into a multi-million dollar movement that continues to have a considerable presence in the public eye, due in part to its high profile in Hollywood.

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Boston thieves pull off historic Brink’s robbery


Year
1950
Month Day
January 17

On January 17, 1950, 11 men steal more than $2 million ($29 million today) from the Brink’s Armored Car depot in Boston, Massachusetts. It was the perfect crime—almost—as the culprits weren’t caught until January 1956, just days before the statute of limitations for the theft expired.

The robbery’s mastermind was Anthony “Fats” Pino, a career criminal who recruited a group of 10 other men to stake out the depot for 18 months to figure out when it held the most money. Pino’s men then managed to steal plans for the depot’s alarm system, returning them before anyone noticed they were gone.

Wearing navy blue coats and chauffeur’s caps–similar to the Brink’s employee uniforms–with rubber Halloween masks, the thieves entered the depot with copied keys, surprising and tying up several employees inside the company’s counting room. Filling 14 canvas bags with cash, coins, checks and money orders—for a total weight of more than half a ton—the men were out and in their getaway car in about 30 minutes. Their haul? More than $2.7 million—the largest robbery in U.S. history up until that time.

No one was hurt in the robbery, and the thieves left virtually no clues, aside from the rope used to tie the employees and one of the chauffeur’s caps. The gang promised to stay out of trouble and not touch the money for six years in order for the statute of limitations to run out. They might have made it, but for the fact that one man, Joseph “Specs” O’Keefe, left his share with another member in order to serve a prison sentence for another burglary. While in jail, O’Keefe wrote bitterly to his cohorts demanding money and hinting he might talk. The group sent a hit man to kill O’Keefe, but he was caught before completing his task. The wounded O’Keefe made a deal with the FBI to testify against his fellow robbers.

Eight of the Brink’s robbers were caught, convicted and given life sentences. Two more died before they could go to trial. Only a small part of the money was ever recovered; the rest is fabled to be hidden in the hills north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. In 1978, the famous robbery was immortalized on film in The Brink’s Job, starring Peter Falk.

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