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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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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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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China and Soviet Union recognize Democratic Republic of Vietnam


Year
1950
Month Day
January 18

The People’s Republic of China formally recognizes the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam and agrees to furnish it military assistance; the Soviet Union extended diplomatic recognition to Hanoi on January 30. China and the Soviet Union provided massive military and economic aid to North Vietnam, which enabled North Vietnam to fight first the French and then the Americans. Chinese aid to North Vietnam between 1950 and 1970 is estimated at $20 billion. It is thought that China provided approximately three-quarters of the total military aid given to Hanoi since 1949, with the Soviets providing most of the rest. It would have been impossible for the North Vietnamese to continue the war without the aid from both the Chinese and Soviets.

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Disney’s “Cinderella” opens in theaters


Year
1950
Month Day
February 15

On February 15, 1950, Walt Disney’s animated feature Cinderella opens in theaters across the United States.

The Chicago-born Disney began his career as an advertising cartoonist in Kansas City. After arriving in Hollywood in 1923, he and his older brother Roy set up shop in the back of a real-estate office and began making a series of animated short films called Alice in Cartoonland, featuring various animated characters. In 1928, he introduced the now-immortal character of Mickey Mouse in two silent movies. That November, Mickey debuted on the big screen in Steamboat Willie, the first fully synchronized sound cartoon ever made. Walt Disney provided Mickey’s squeaky voice himself. The company went on to produce a series of sound cartoons, such as the “Silly Symphony” series, which included The Three Little Pigs (1933) and introduced characters like Donald Duck and Goofy.

Disney made a risky bet in 1937 when he championed–and put $1.5 million of his own money into–Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first-ever full-length animated feature film. The risk paid off in spades after the film grossed $8 million at the box office, an incredible sum during the Great Depression. Four more animated hits followed in the growing Disney canon–Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942)–before full-scale production was stalled by wartime economic problems. By the end of the decade, audiences were eagerly awaiting the next great Disney offering, having had to satisfy themselves with so-called “package films” like Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948).

Cinderella, based on another Brothers Grimm fairy tale, was chosen for its similarity to the Snow White story. The film’s immediate source was Charles Perrault’s French version of the fairy tale, which tells the story of a young girl whose father dies, leaving her at the mercy of her oppressive stepmother and two unsympathetic stepsisters. As in Snow White, Cinderella gets the help of a few friends–in this case singing mice and birds as well as a Fairy Godmother–to escape the prison of her servitude and win the heart of Prince Charming. Along the way to its happy ending–a Disney trademark–the film featured lively animation sequences and enduring songs like “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and the Oscar-nominated “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.”

Six years in the making, Cinderella became one of Disney’s best-loved films and one of the highest-grossing features of 1950. As with Snow White and other classic animated features, the studio held periodic re-releases of Cinderella in 1957, 1965, 1973, 1981 and 1987, keeping its popularity alive among new generations of moviegoers.

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Walt Disney

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The FBI debuts “10 Most Wanted Fugitives” list


Year
1950
Month Day
March 14

The Federal Bureau of Investigation institutes the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list in an effort to publicize particularly dangerous fugitives. The creation of the program arose out of a wire service news story in 1949 about the “toughest guys” the FBI wanted to capture. The story drew so much public attention that the “Ten Most Wanted” list was given the okay by J. Edgar Hoover the following year. 

Since its debut, hundreds of the criminals included on the list have been apprehended or located, with more than 150 as a result of tips from the public. The Criminal Investigative Division (CID) of the FBI asks all fifty-six field offices to submit candidates for inclusion on the list. The CID in association with the Office of Public and Congressional Affairs then proposes finalists for approval of by the FBI’s Deputy Director. The criteria for selection is simple, the criminal must have a lengthy record and current pending charges that make him or her particularly dangerous. And the the FBI must believe that the publicity attendant to placement on the list will assist in the apprehension of the fugitive.

Generally, the only way to get off the list is to die or to be captured. There have only been a handful of cases where a fugitive has been removed from the list because they no longer were a particularly dangerous menace to society. Only ten women have appeared on the Ten Most Wanted list. Ruth Eisemann-Schier was the first in 1968.

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USSR and PRC sign mutual defense treaty


Year
1950
Month Day
February 15

The Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, the two largest communist nations in the world, announce the signing of a mutual defense and assistance treaty.

The negotiations for the treaty were conducted in Moscow between PRC leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou En-lai, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and Foreign Minister Andrei Vishinsky. The treaty’s terms called for the Soviets to provide a $300 million credit to the PRC. It also mandated that the Soviet Union return to the Chinese the control of a major railroad and the cities of Port Arthur and Dairen in Manchuria, all of which had been seized by Russian forces near the end of World War II. The mutual defense section of the agreement primarily concerned any future aggression by Japan and “any other state directly or indirectly associated” with Japan. Zhou En-lai proudly declared that the linking of the two communist nations created a force that was “impossible to defeat.”

U.S. commentators viewed the treaty as proof positive that communism was a monolithic movement, being directed primarily from the Kremlin in Moscow. An article in the New York Times referred to the PRC as a Soviet “satellite.” As events made clear, however, the treaty was not exactly a concrete bond between communist countries. By the late-1950s, fissures were already beginning to appear in the Soviet-PRC alliance. Publicly, the Chinese charged that the Soviets were compromising the principles of Marxism-Leninism by adopting an attitude of “peaceful coexistence” with the capitalist nations of the West. By the early-1960s, Mao Zedong was openly declaring that the Soviet Union was actually allying itself with the United States against the Chinese revolution.

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President Truman declares state of emergency over Korean War


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Year
1950
Month Day
December 16

In the wake of the massive Chinese intervention in the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman declares a state of emergency. Proclaiming that “Communist imperialism” threatened the world’s people, Truman called upon the American people to help construct an “arsenal of freedom.”

In November, the stakes in the Korean War dramatically escalated with the intervention of hundreds of thousands of communist Chinese troops. Prior to their arrival on the battlefield, the U.S. forces seemed on the verge of victory in Korea. Just days after General Douglas MacArthur declared an “end the war offensive,” however, massive elements of the Chinese army smashed into the American lines and drove the U.S. forces back. The “limited war” in Korea threatened to turn into a widespread conflict. Against this backdrop, Truman issued his state of emergency and the U.S. military-industrial complex went into full preparations for a possible third world war. The president’s proclamation vastly expanded his executive powers and gave Mobilization Director Charles E. Wilson nearly unlimited authority to coordinate the country’s defense program. Such an increase in government power had not been seen since World War II.

The Soviet Union, which Truman blamed for most of the current world problems in the course of his speech, blasted the United States for “warmongering.” Congress, most of America’s allies, and the American people appeared to be strongly supportive of the President’s tough talk and actions. Truman’s speech, and the events preceding it, indicated that the Cold War had become an actual military reality. The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953.

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