Elvis Presley is drafted


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Year
1957
Month Day
December 20

On December 20, 1957, while spending the Christmas holidays at Graceland, his newly purchased Tennessee mansion, rock-and-roll star Elvis Presley receives his draft notice for the United States Army.

With a suggestive style–one writer called him “Elvis the Pelvis”–a hit movie, Love Me Tender, and a string of gold records including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” Presley had become a national icon, and the world’s first bona fide rock-and-roll star, by the end of 1956. As the Beatles’ John Lennon once famously remarked: “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” The following year, at the peak of his career, Presley received his draft notice for a two-year stint in the army. Fans sent tens of thousands of letters to the army asking for him to be spared, but Elvis would have none of it. He received one deferment–during which he finished working on his movie King Creole–before being sworn in as an army private in Memphis on March 24, 1958.

After basic training–which included an emergency leave to see his beloved mother, Gladys, before she died in August 1958–Presley sailed to Europe on the USS General Randall. For the next 18 months, he served in Company D, 32nd Tank Battalion, 3rd Armor Division in Friedberg, Germany, where he attained the rank of sergeant. For the rest of his service, he shared an off-base residence with his father, grandmother and some Memphis friends. After working during the day, Presley returned home at night to host frequent parties and impromptu jam sessions. At one of these, an army buddy of Presley’s introduced him to 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, whom Elvis would marry some years later. 

Meanwhile, Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, continued to release singles recorded before his departure, keeping the money rolling in and his most famous client fresh in the public’s mind. Widely praised for not seeking to avoid the draft or serve domestically, Presley was seen as a model for all young Americans. After he got his polio shot from an army doctor on national TV, vaccine rates among the American population shot from 2 percent to 85 percent by the time of his discharge on March 2, 1960.

READ MORE: 7 Fascinating Facts About Elvis Presley

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St. Lawrence Seaway opened

Year
1959
Month Day
June 26

In a ceremony presided over by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II, the St. Lawrence Seaway is officially opened, creating a navigational channel from the Atlantic Ocean to all the Great Lakes. The seaway, made up of a system of canals, locks, and dredged waterways, extends a distance of nearly 2,500 miles, from the Atlantic Ocean through the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Duluth, Minnesota, on Lake Superior.

Work on the massive project was initiated by a joint U.S.-Canadian commission in 1954, and five years later, in April 1959, the icebreaker D’Iberville began the first transit of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Since its official opening, more than two billion tons of cargo, with an estimated worth of more than $300 billion, have moved along its canals and channels.

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Bill Haley and His Comets record “Rock Around The Clock”

Year
1954
Month Day
April 12

On April 12, 1954— Bill Haley and His Comets recorded “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock.” If rock and roll was a social and cultural revolution, then “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock” was its Declaration of Independence. And if Bill Haley was not exactly the revolution’s Thomas Jefferson, it may be fair to call him its John Hancock.

Bill Haley put his enormous signature on rock and roll history during the final 40 minutes of a three-hour recording session in New York City—a session set up not for the recording of “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock,” but of a song called “Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town).” It took the group nearly all of their scheduled session to get a useable take of “Thirteen Women,” a song that was entirely new to them but was chosen as the A-side of their upcoming single by their new record label, Decca. With time running out and no chance of extending the session, Haley and his Comets were eager to lay down the song they’d been playing live for many months to enthusiastic audience response. The lead guitarist brought in for the session, Danny Cedrone, had not had time to work up a new solo for the instrumental break on “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock,” so he repurposed one he’d used on a Haley recording two years earlier called “Rock This Joint.” Cedrone was paid $31 for his work that evening, which included performing what is still recognized as one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.

Haley and the band had time for only two takes, and in the first, they played so loud that Haley’s vocals were almost inaudible on tape. In an era before multi-track recording, the only solution was to do a second take with minimal accompaniment and hope for the best. Later, a Decca engineer painstakingly spliced together segments from both takes—a near-miracle given the technology of 1954. The finished version was judged good enough to include as the B-side on “Thirteen Women,” which was released in May 1954.

The single sold a respectable but underwhelming 75,000 copies in the coming months, and was destined to be forgotten until a 10-year-old kid in Los Angeles flipped “Thirteen Women” and fell in love with the now-famous B-side. That kid, Peter Ford, happened to be the son of actor Glenn Ford, who was slated to star in the upcoming teenage-delinquency drama Blackboard Jungle. Peter turned his father on to “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock,” and soon enough, the song was chosen to play over the opening credits of Blackboard Jungle, which is how it became a pop sensation, selling a million copies in a single month in the spring of 1955.

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U.S. forces land at Inchon

Year
1950
Month Day
September 15

During the Korean War, U.S. Marines land at Inchon on the west coast of Korea, 100 miles south of the 38th parallel and just 25 miles from Seoul. The location had been criticized as too risky, but U.N. Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur insisted on carrying out the landing. By the early evening, the Marines had overcome moderate resistance and secured Inchon. The brilliant landing cut the North Korean forces in two, and the U.S.-led U.N. force pushed inland to recapture Seoul, the South Korean capital that had fallen to the communists in June. Allied forces then converged from the north and the south, devastating the North Korean army and taking 125,000 enemy troops prisoner.

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when 90,000 North Korean troops stormed across the 38th parallel, catching the Republic of Korea’s forces completely off guard and throwing them into a hasty southern retreat. Two days later, U.S. President Harry Truman announced that the United States would intervene in the conflict, and on June 28 the United Nations approved the use of force against communist 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.

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.

READ MORE: The Most Harrowing Battle of the Korean War 

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USS Nautilus—world’s first nuclear submarine—is commissioned

Year
1954
Month Day
September 30

The USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, is commissioned by the U.S. Navy.

The Nautilus was constructed under the direction of U.S. Navy Captain Hyman G. Rickover, a brilliant Russian-born engineer who joined the U.S. atomic program in 1946. In 1947, he was put in charge of the navy’s nuclear-propulsion program and began work on an atomic submarine. Regarded as a fanatic by his detractors, Rickover succeeded in developing and delivering the world’s first nuclear submarine years ahead of schedule. In 1952, the Nautilus‘ keel was laid by President Harry S. Truman, and on January 21, 1954, first lady Mamie Eisenhower broke a bottle of champagne across its bow as it was launched into the Thames River at Groton, Connecticut. Commissioned on September 30, 1954, it first ran under nuclear power on the morning of January 17, 1955.

Much larger than the diesel-electric submarines that preceded it, the Nautilus stretched 319 feet and displaced 3,180 tons. It could remain submerged for almost unlimited periods because its atomic engine needed no air and only a very small quantity of nuclear fuel. The uranium-powered nuclear reactor produced steam that drove propulsion turbines, allowing the Nautilus to travel underwater at speeds in excess of 20 knots.

In its early years of service, the USS Nautilus broke numerous submarine travel records and in August 1958 accomplished the first voyage under the geographic North Pole. After a career spanning 25 years and almost 500,000 miles steamed, the Nautilus was decommissioned on March 3, 1980. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982, the world’s first nuclear submarine went on exhibit in 1986 as the Historic Ship Nautilus at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut.

READ MORE: 9 Groundbreaking Early Submarines 

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Ships collide off Nantucket

Year
1956
Month Day
July 25

At 11:10 p.m., 45 miles south of Nantucket Island, the Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria and the Swedish ocean liner Stockholm collide in a heavy Atlantic fog. Fifty-one passengers and crew were killed in the collision, which ripped a great hole in the broad side of the Italian vessel. Miraculously, all 1,660 survivors on the Andrea Doria were rescued from the severely listing ship before it sunk late the next morning. Both ships were equipped with sophisticated radar systems, and authorities were puzzled as to the cause of the accident.

READ MORE: The Sinking of Andrea Doria

In the mid-1950s, more than 50 passenger liners steamed between Europe and America, exploiting a postwar boom in transatlantic ocean travel. The lavishly appointed Andrea Doria, put to sea in 1953, was the pride of the Italian line. It was built for luxury, not speed, and boasted extensive safety precautions, such as state-of-the-art radar systems and 11 watertight compartments in its hull. The Stockholm, which went into service in 1948, was a more modest ocean liner, less than half the tonnage and carrying 747 passengers and crew on its fateful voyage. The Andrea Doria held 1,706 passengers and crew in its final journey.

On the night of July 25, 1956, the Stockholm was just beginning its journey home to Sweden from New York, while the Andrea Doria was steaming in the opposite direction. The Italian liner had been in an intermittent fog since midafternoon, but Captain Piero Calami only slightly reduced his speed, relying on his ship’s radar to get him to his destination safely and on schedule. The Stockholm, meanwhile, was directed north of its recommended route by Captain H. Gunnar Nordenson, who risked encountering westbound vessels in the name of reducing travel time. The Stockholm also had radar and expected no difficulty in navigating past approaching vessels. It failed to anticipate, however, that a ship like the Andrea Doria could be hidden until the last few minutes by a fogbank.

At 10:45 p.m., the Stockholm showed up on the Doria‘s radar screens, at a distance of about 17 nautical miles. Soon after, the Italian ship showed up on the Stockholm‘s radar, about 12 miles away. What happened next has been subject to dispute, but it’s likely that the crews of both ships misread their radar sets. Captain Calami then exacerbated a dangerous situation by making a turn to port for an unconventional starboard-to-starboard passing, which he wrongly thought the other ship was attempting. About two miles away from each other, the ship’s lights came into view of each other. Third Officer Johan-Ernst Bogislaus Carstens, commanding the bridge of the Stockholm, then made a conventional turn to starboard.

Less than a mile away, Captain Calami realized he was on a collision course with the Stockholm and turned hard to the left, hoping to race past the bow of the Swedish ship. Both ships were too large and moving too fast to make a quick turn. At 11:10 p.m., the Stockholm‘s sharply angled bow, reinforced for breaking ice, smashed 30 feet into the starboard side of the Andrea Doria. For a moment, the smaller ship was lodged there like a cork in a bottle, but then the opposite momentum of the two ships pulled them apart, and the Stockholm‘s smashed bow screeched down the side of the Doria, showering sparks into the air.

Five crewmen of the Stockholm were killed in the collision. On the Andrea Doria, the carnage was much worse. The bow of the Swedish ship crashed through passenger cabins, and 46 passengers and crew were killed. One man watched as his wife was dragged away forever by the retreating bow of the Stockholm. Fourteen-year-old Linda Morgan was asleep on the Doria when the impact somehow catapulted her out of bed and onto the Stockholm’s crushed bow. She was later dubbed “the miracle girl” by the press.

With seven of its 10 decks open to the Atlantic waters, the Andrea Doria listed more than 20 degrees to port in minutes, and its watertight compartments were compromised. A lifeboat evacuation began on the doomed ship. The evacuation initially went far from smoothly. The port side could not be used because the ship was listing too much, which left 1,044 lifeboat seats for the 1,706 on board. Passengers in the lower cabins fought their way through darkened hallways filling up with ocean water and leaking oil. The first lifeboat was not deployed until an hour after the collision, and it held more crew than passengers.

Fortunately, the Stockholm, which had suffered a nonfatal blow, was able to lend its lifeboats to the evacuation effort. Several ships heard the Doria‘s mayday and came to assist. At 2:00 a.m. on July 26, the Ile de France, another great ocean liner, arrived and took charge of the rescue effort. It was the greatest civilian maritime rescue in history, and 1,660 lives were saved. The Stockholm limped back to New York.

At 10:09 a.m. on July 26, the Andrea Doria sank into the Atlantic. Almost immediately, the wreck, located at a depth of 240 feet of water, became a popular scuba diving destination. However, because of the extreme depth, the presence of sharks, and unpredictable currents, the Doria is known as the “Mount Everest” of diving locations.

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Sweden’s Dag Hammarskjöld elected U.N. head

Year
1953
Month Day
April 07

By a vote of 57 to 1, Dag Hammarskjöld is elected secretary-general of the United Nations.

The son of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, a former prime minister of Sweden, Dag joined Sweden’s foreign ministry in 1947, and in 1951 formally entered the cabinet as deputy foreign minister. The same year, he traveled to the United Nations as vice chairman of the Swedish delegation, and in 1952 was appointed acting chairman. Elected U.N. secretary-general on the recommendation of the Security Council on April 7, 1953, he led missions to China, the Middle East, and elsewhere to become better acquainted with the United Nations’ member states and to arrange peace settlements. In 1957, he was unanimously re-elected secretary-general.

During his second term, he initiated and directed the United Nations’ vigorous role in the Congolese Civil War, which led to criticism of Hammarskjöld’s leadership by the Soviet Union. He was on his fourth mission to the Republic of the Congo when he was killed with 15 others in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia on September 18, 1961. U Thant of Myanmar succeeded him as secretary-general. Hammarskjöld was posthumously awarded the 1961 Nobel Peace Prize.

READ MORE: U.N. Leader Dag Hammarskjöld Died in Mysterious Circumstances in 1961. What Really Happened?

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French defeated at Dien Bien Phu

Year
1954
Month Day
May 07

In northwest Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh forces decisively defeat the French at Dien Bien Phu, a French stronghold besieged by the Vietnamese communists for 57 days. The Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu signaled the end of French colonial influence in Indochina and cleared the way for the division of Vietnam along the 17th parallel at the conference of Geneva.

On September 2, 1945, hours after the Japanese signed their unconditional surrender in World War II, communist leader Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam, hoping to prevent the French from reclaiming their former colonial possession. In 1946, he hesitantly accepted a French proposal that allowed Vietnam to exist as an autonomous state within the French Union, but fighting broke out when the French tried to reestablish colonial rule. Beginning in 1949, the Viet Minh fought an increasingly effective guerrilla war against France with military and economic assistance from newly Communist China. France received military aid from the United States.

In November 1953, the French, weary of jungle warfare, occupied Dien Bien Phu, a small mountain outpost on the Vietnamese border near Laos. Although the Vietnamese rapidly cut off all roads to the fort, the French were confident that they could be supplied by air. The fort was also out in the open, and the French believed that their superior artillery would keep the position safe. In 1954, the Viet Minh army, under General Vo Nguyen Giap, moved against Dien Bien Phu and in March encircled it with 40,000 Communist troops and heavy artillery.

The first Viet Minh assault against the 13,000 entrenched French troops came on March 12, and despite massive air support, the French held only two square miles by late April. On May 7, after 57 days of siege, the French positions collapsed. Although the defeat brought an end to French colonial efforts in Indochina, the United States soon stepped up to fill the vacuum, increasing military aid to South Vietnam and sending the first U.S. military advisers to the country in 1959.

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Europe’s Common Market founded in major step toward economic unity


Year
1957
Month Day
March 25

On March 25, 1957, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg sign a treaty in Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC), also known as the Common Market. The EEC, which came into operation in January 1958, was a major step in Europe’s movement toward economic and political union.

By 1950, it was apparent that centuries of Western European world supremacy was at an end. The national markets of Europe, isolated from each other by archaic trade laws, were no match for the giant market enjoyed by the United States. And looming over Europe from the east was the Soviet Union, whose communist leaders commanded vast territory and economic resources under a single system. Many European leaders also feared the resumption of conflict between traditional European antagonists such as France and Germany, which would only diminish the European economies further.

As a means of improving Europe’s economic climate and preventing war, some influential statesman and political theorists suggested economic integration. The first major step in this direction was taken in 1951, when France and West Germany formed the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), integrating their coal and steel industries. French leaders proposed the organization primarily as a means of monitoring German industry, and West German leaders immediately agreed, to allay fears of German militarization. To supervise the ECSC, several supranational bodies were established, including an executive authority, a council of ministers, an advisory assembly, and a court of justice to settle disputes. Italy and the three nations of the Benelux Economic Union–Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg–soon joined. The groundwork for the EEC was laid.

On March 25, 1957, representatives of six European nations signed two treaties in Rome. One created the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for the common and peaceful development of Europe’s nuclear resources. The other created the EEC. In the Common Market, trade barriers between member nations were gradually eliminated, and common policies regarding transportation, agriculture, and economic relations with nonmember countries were implemented. Eventually, labor and capital were permitted to move freely within the boundaries of the community. The EEC, the ECSC, and Euratom were served by a single council of ministers, representative assembly, and court of justice. In 1967, the three organizations were fully merged as the European Community (EC).

Britain and other European nations initially declined to join the Common Market and established the weaker European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960 as an alternative. By the early 1960s, however, the Common Market nations showed signs of significant economic growth, and Britain changed its mind. Because of its close ties to the United States, however, French President Charles de Gaulle twice vetoed British admission, and Britain did not join the EC until January 1973, when Ireland and Denmark also became EC members. Greece joined in 1981, Portugal and Spain in 1986, and the former East Germany as part of reunified Germany in 1990.

In early 1990s, the European Community became the basis for the European Union (EU), which was established in 1993 following ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. The treaty called for a strengthened European parliament, the creation of a central European bank and common currency, and a common defense policy. In addition to a single European common market, member states would also participate in a larger common market, called the European Economic Area. Austria, Finland, and Sweden became members of the EU in 1995. In 2009, the EEC was absorbed into the EU’s framework. As of 2020, the EU had 27 member states. 

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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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