World Trade Center, then the world’s tallest building, opens in New York City

Year
1973
Month Day
April 04

The “Twin Towers” of the World Trade Center officially open in New York City. The buildings replaced the Empire State Building as the world’s tallest building. Though they would only hold that title for a year, they remained a dominant feature of the city’s skyline and were recognizable the world over long before they were destroyed in a terrorist attack in 2001.

Planning, designing and clearing space for the World Trade Center took over a decade. The New York State Legislature originally approved the idea in 1943, but concrete plans did not materialize until the 1960s. The deal that created the new complex, of which the Twin Towers would be the centerpiece, also included the creation of the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation, or PATH, to operate the trains which entered Manhattan from New Jersey on what was to become the grounds of the WTC. Architect Minoru Yamasaki drew inspiration from Arabic architecture for the towers’ design. In order to efficiently move people up and down the 110-story towers, Yamasaki and his team developed the concept of express elevators—based on the New York City Subway’s system of express and local trains—that traveled directly to “sky lobbies” on the 44 and 78 floor, from which “local” elevators ran to neighboring floors. The first tenants moved into the North Tower in December of 1970, with the official opening of both buildings taking place over two years later.

The towers’ construction ended the Empire State Building’s 41-year run as the tallest building in the world. They were replaced by Chicago’s Sears Tower the following year, an indication of the rising trend of supertall construction. The World Trade Center dramatically altered the New York skyline and the cityscape of Lower Manhattan. As such, they were often used as a shorthand for the area in visual media, and were frequently included in establishing shots of films set in New York. Though most of the World Trade Center was occupied by office space, the Top of the World Observation Deck on the South Tower became a popular tourist destination, as did the North Tower’s Windows on the World restaurant, which featured its own wine school.

The towers were first targeted by terrorists in 1993, when a bomb exploded in the garage under the North Tower, killing six and injuring over 1,000. The Twin Towers were destroyed, and were the site of the vast majorities of the casualties, on September 11, 2001, a final chapter that has since overshadowed the rest of the World Trade Center’s story. The building that replaced them, One World Trade Center, was completed in 2014 and is currently the seventh-tallest building in the world.

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Stephenie Meyer, best-selling author of “Twilight” novels, is born


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Year
1973
Month Day
December 24

On December 24, 1973, Stephenie Meyer, author of the “Twilight” novels, a vampire romance series for young adults that became a literary phenomenon, is born in Hartford, Connecticut.

Meyer, born Stephenie Morgan, was raised in Phoenix, Arizona, the second of six siblings. She married at 21 and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English in 1997. Meyer was a stay-at-home mother of three boys in 2003 when the idea for “Twilight”—the story of teenager Bella Swann and her handsome vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen—came to her in a dream. Three months later, Meyer, who had never written seriously before, finished the manuscript for “Twilight.” After a string of rejections from literary agencies, she landed an agent and a $750,000, three-book deal. “Twilight,” released in 2005, went on to become a huge best-seller. Three more books in the series, which developed a massive following among young girls as well as grown women, followed: “New Moon” (2006), “Eclipse” (2007) and “Breaking Dawn” (2008). The books have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide and been translated into dozens of languages. Meyer’s Mormon faith has influenced her writing: While her “Twilight” characters aren’t Mormons, they don’t drink or smoke and there are no graphic sex scenes in her books.

In the summer of 2008, Meyer released a science-fiction novel marketed to adults, titled “The Host,” which like her earlier books became a best-seller. In November of that year, legions of “Twilight” fans, known as “Twihards,” flocked to movie theaters for the Hollywood adaptation of Meyer’s first novel. The film, starring Kristen Stewart as Bella and Robert Pattinson as Edward, was a box-office hit, and the other three novels in the series later received big-screen adaptations.

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“Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” tops the U.S. pop charts and creates a cultural phenomenon

Year
1973
Month Day
April 21

The yellow ribbon has long been a symbol of support for absent or missing loved ones. There are some who believe that the tradition of the yellow ribbon dates back as far as the Civil War era, when a yellow ribbon in a woman’s hair indicated that she was “taken” by a man who was absent due to service in the United States Army Cavalry. But research by professional folklorists has found no evidence to support that story. The Library of Congress itself traces the cultural ubiquity of this powerful symbol to the well-known song by Tony Orlando and Dawn: “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” which topped the U.S. pop charts on April 21, 1973.

“Tie a Yellow Ribbon” was a massive international hit, holding the top spot on both the U.S. and U.K. charts for four consecutive weeks and earning upwards of 3 million radio plays in 1973. It was sung from the perspective of a man returning home after three years in prison and looking anxiously for an agreed-upon sign that the woman he loves would welcome his return. Songwriters Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown got the idea for the song from a story they’d heard while in the Army. New York newspaper columnist Pete Hamill sued Levine and Brown for copyright infringement because he believed they took the idea from a 1971 column of his relating a very similar story as fact. Hamill dropped his suit, however, when researchers uncovered multiple versions of the same general tale dating back at least as far as the 1950s. “Probably the story is one of these mysterious bits of folklore that emerge from the national subconscious to be told anew in one form or another,” Hamill said at the time. To use a more familiar term, it was an urban legend.

Fast-forward to January 1981, when the Library of Congress was inundated by press inquiries over the historical roots of the yellow ribbon. What prompted the sudden interest in the origins of the “tradition” was the spontaneous appearance all around the country of yellow ribbons welcoming the U.S. hostages home after 444 days in captivity in Iran. The Library’s experts heard assertions of connections to the 1949 John Wayne film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and they found a 1917 song called “Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon (For her Lover Who Is Fur, Fur Away),” but they found no actual evidence of anyone ever actually wearing yellow ribbons or tying them to trees, lampposts, etc. Instead, the Library of Congress ruled that the most compelling evidence explaining the origin of the yellow-ribbon “tradition” was to be found in a television interview with Penelope Laingen, wife of the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Tehran, whose ribbon-bedecked Maryland home appears to have started the trend in 1981. “It just came to me,” she said, “to give people something to do, rather than throw dog food at Iranians. I said, ‘Why don’t they tie a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree.’ That’s how it started.” Her reported inspiration: the Tony Orlando song that reached #1 on this day in 1973.

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Kidnapped grandson of Getty billionaire found


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Year
1973
Month Day
December 15

Jean Paul Getty III, the grandson of American billionaire J. Paul Getty, is found alive near Naples, five months after his kidnapping by an Italian gang. J. Paul Getty, who became the richest man in the world in 1957, had initially refused to pay his 16-year-old grandson’s $17 million ransom but finally agreed to cooperate after the boy’s severed right ear was sent to a newspaper in Rome. He eventually secured his grandson’s release by paying just $2.7 million, the maximum amount that he claimed he was able to raise.

Born in Minneapolis in 1892, Getty inherited a small oil company from his father. Through his autocratic rule and skillful manipulation of the stock market, Getty soon shaped Getty Oil into a massive financial empire. By 1968, Getty’s fortune exceeded $1 billion. However, the world’s wealthiest man did not live an ideal life. He is remembered as an eccentric billionaire who married and divorced five times and had serious relationship problems with most of his five sons.

In the final 25 years of his life, Getty lived near London, England, in an estate surrounded by double barbed-wire fences and protected by plainclothes guards and more than 20 German shepherd attack dogs. He was also a notorious miser–his installation of a payphone for guests in his English mansion is a famous example. Three years after failing to pay his grandson’s ransom in a timely manner, J. Paul Getty died at the age of 83.

His children and former wives fought bitterly over the inheritance of his fortune in court, but ultimately the bulk of his billions went to the J. Paul Getty Museum “for the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge.” Today, the Getty Museum, based in Los Angeles, is the most richly endowed museum on earth.

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Televised Watergate hearings begin

Year
1973
Month Day
May 17

In Washington, D.C., the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, headed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, begins televised hearings on the escalating Watergate scandal. One week later, Harvard law professor Archibald Cox was sworn in as special Watergate prosecutor.

On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into and illegally wiretapping the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. One of the suspects, James W. McCord Jr., was revealed to be the salaried security coordinator for President Richard Nixon’s reelection committee. Two other men with White House ties were later implicated in the break-in: E. Howard Hunt, Jr., a former White House aide, and G. Gordon Liddy, finance counsel for the Committee for the Re-election of the President. Journalists and the Select Committee discovered a higher-echelon conspiracy surrounding the incident, and a political scandal of unprecedented magnitude erupted.

READ MORE: The Watergate Scandal: A Timeline – HISTORY

In May 1973, the special Senate committee began televised proceedings on the Watergate affair. During the Senate hearings, former White House legal counsel John Dean testified that the Watergate break-in had been approved by former Attorney General John Mitchell with the knowledge of chief White House advisers John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, and that President Nixon had been aware of the cover-up. Meanwhile, Watergate prosecutor Cox and his staff began to uncover widespread evidence of political espionage by the Nixon reelection committee, illegal wiretapping of thousands of citizens by the administration, and contributions to the Republican Party in return for political favors.

In July, the existence of what were to be called the Watergate tapes–official recordings of White House conversations between Nixon and his staff–was revealed during the Senate hearings. Cox subpoenaed these tapes, and after three months of delay President Nixon agreed to send summaries of the recordings. Cox rejected the summaries, and Nixon fired him. His successor as special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, leveled indictments against several high-ranking administration officials, including Mitchell and Dean, who were duly convicted.

Public confidence in the president rapidly waned, and by the end of July 1974 the House Judiciary Committee had adopted three articles of impeachment against President Nixon: obstruction of justice, abuse of presidential powers, and hindrance of the impeachment process. On July 30, under coercion from the Supreme Court, Nixon finally released the Watergate tapes. On August 5, transcripts of the recordings were released, including a segment in which the president was heard instructing Haldeman to order the FBI to halt the Watergate investigation. Four days later, Nixon became the first president in U.S. history to resign. On September 8, his successor, President Gerald Ford, pardoned him from any criminal charges.

READ MORE: How Many US Presidents Have Faced Impeachment?

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America’s first space station, Skylab, is launched

Year
1973
Month Day
May 14

Skylab, America’s first space station, is successfully launched into an orbit around the earth. Eleven days later, U.S. astronauts Charles Conrad, Joseph Kerwin, and Paul Weitz made a rendezvous with Skylab, repairing a jammed solar panel and conducting scientific experiments during their 28-day stay aboard the space station.

The first manned Skylab mission came two years after the Soviet Union launched Salyut, the world’s first space station, into orbit around the earth. However, unlike the ill-fated Salyut, which was plagued with problems, the American space station was a great success, safely housing three separate three-man crews for extended periods of time and exceeding pre-mission plans for scientific study.

Originally the spent third stage of a Saturn 5 moon rocket, the cylinder space station was 118 feet tall, weighed 77 tons, and carried the most varied assortment of experimental equipment ever assembled in a single spacecraft to that date. The crews of Skylab spent more than 700 hours observing the sun and brought home more than 175,000 solar pictures. They also provided important information about the biological effects of living in space for prolonged periods of time. Five years after the last Skylab mission, the space station’s orbit began to deteriorate faster than expected, owing to unexpectedly high sunspot activity. On July 11, 1979, the parts of the space station that did not burn up in the atmosphere came crashing down on Australia and into the Indian Ocean. No one was injured.

READ MORE: Space Exploration: Timeline and Technologies 

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American Indian Movement (AIM) ends occupation of Wounded Knee

Year
1973
Month Day
May 08

On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, armed members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) surrender to federal authorities, ending their 71-day siege of Wounded Knee, site of the infamous massacre of 300 Sioux by the U.S. 7th Cavalry in 1890.

AIM was founded in 1968 by Russell Means, Dennis Banks, and other Native-American leaders as a militant political and civil rights organization. From November 1969 to June 1971, AIM members occupied Alcatraz Island off San Francisco, saying they had rights to it under a treaty provision granting them unused federal land. In November 1972, AIM members briefly occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., to protest programs controlling reservation development.

Their actions were acclaimed by many Native Americans, but on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Oglala Sioux Tribal President Dick Wilson had banned all AIM activities. AIM considered his government corrupt and dictatorial, and planned the occupation of Wounded Knee as a means of forcing a federal investigation of his administration. By taking Wounded Knee, The AIM leaders also hoped to force an investigation of other reservations, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and broken Indian treaties. In addition to its historical significance, Wounded Knee was one of the poorest communities in the United States and shared with the other Pine Ridge settlements some of the country’s lowest rates of life expectancy.

READ MORE: Remembering the Wounded Knee Massacre

On February 27, 1973, some 200 AIM-led Sioux seized control of Wounded Knee, taking 11 allies of Dick Wilson hostage as local authorities and federal agents descended on the reservation. The next day, AIM members traded gunfire with the federal marshals surrounding the settlement and fired on automobiles and low-flying planes that dared come within rifle range. Russell Means began negotiations for the release of the hostages, demanding that the U.S. Senate launch an investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Pine Ridge, and all Sioux reservations in South Dakota, and that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hold hearings on the scores of Indian treaties broken by the U.S. government.

The Wounded Knee occupation lasted for a total of 71 days, during which time two Sioux men were shot to death by federal agents. One federal agent was paralyzed after being shot. On May 8, the AIM leaders and their supporters surrendered after White House officials promised to investigate their complaints. Russell Means and Dennis Banks were arrested, but on September 16, 1973, the charges against them were dismissed by a federal judge because of the U.S. government’s unlawful handling of witnesses and evidence.

Violence continued on the Pine Ridge Reservation throughout the rest of the 1970s, with several more AIM members and supporters losing their lives in confrontations with the U.S. government. In 1975, two FBI agents and a Native-American man were killed in a massive shoot-out between federal agents and AIM members and local residents. In a controversial trial, AIM member Leonard Peltier was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.

With many of its leaders in prison, AIM disbanded in 1978. Local AIM groups continued to function, however, and in 1981 one group occupied part of the Black Hills in South Dakota. The U.S. government took no steps to honor broken Indian treaties, but in the courts some tribes won major settlements from federal and state governments in cases involving tribal land claims. Russell Means continued to advocate Native-American rights at Pine Ridge and elsewhere and in 1988 was a presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party. In 2001, Means attempted to run for the governorship of New Mexico, but his candidacy was disallowed because procedure had not been followed.

Beginning in 1992, Means appeared in several films, including Last of the Mohicans. He also had a guest spot on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. His autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread, was published in 1997. Means died on October 22, 2012, at age 72.

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AIM occupation of Wounded Knee begins


Year
1973
Month Day
February 27

On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, some 200 Sioux Native Americans, led by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), occupy Wounded Knee, the site of the infamous 1890 massacre of 300 Sioux by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry. The AIM members, some of them armed, took 11 residents of the historic Oglala Sioux settlement hostage as local authorities and federal agents descended on the reservation.

AIM was founded in 1968 by Russell Means, Dennis Banks, and other Native leaders as a militant political and civil rights organization. From November 1969 to June 1971, AIM members occupied Alcatraz Island off San Francisco, saying they had the right to it under a treaty provision granting them unused federal land. In November 1972, AIM members briefly occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., to protest programs controlling reservation development. Then, in early 1973, AIM prepared for its dramatic occupation of Wounded Knee. In addition to its historical significance, Wounded Knee was one of the poorest communities in the United States and shared with the other Pine Ridge settlements some of the country’s lowest rates of life expectancy.

READ MORE: When Native American Activists Occupied Alcatraz Island

The day after the Wounded Knee occupation began, AIM members traded gunfire with the federal marshals surrounding the settlement and fired on automobiles and low-flying planes that dared come within rifle range. Russell Means began negotiations for the release of the hostages, demanding that the U.S. Senate launch an investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and all Sioux reservations in South Dakota, and that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hold hearings on the scores of Indian treaties broken by the U.S. government.

The Wounded Knee occupation lasted for a total of 71 days, during which time two Sioux men were shot to death by federal agents and several more were wounded. On May 8, the AIM leaders and their supporters surrendered after officials promised to investigate their complaints. Russell Means and Dennis Banks were arrested, but on September 16, 1973, the charges against them were dismissed by a federal judge because of the U.S. government’s unlawful handling of witnesses and evidence.

Violence continued on the Pine Ridge Reservation throughout the rest of the 1970s, with several more AIM members and supporters losing their lives in confrontations with the U.S. government. In 1975, two FBI agents and a Native man were killed in a shoot-out between federal agents and AIM members and local residents. In the trial that followed, AIM member Leonard Peltier was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. With many of its leaders in prison, AIM disbanded in 1978. Local AIM groups continued to function, however, and in 1981 one group occupied part of the Black Hills in South Dakota. 

Congress took no steps to honor broken Indian treaties, but in the courts some tribes won major settlements from federal and state governments in cases involving tribal land claims. Russell Means continued to advocate for Native rights at Pine Ridge and elsewhere and in 1988 was a presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party. In 2001, Means attempted to run for the governorship of New Mexico, but his candidacy was disallowed because procedure had not been followed. Beginning in 1992, Means appeared in several films, including Last of the Mohicans. He also had a guest spot on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. His autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread, was published in 1997. Means died on October 12, 2012, at age 72.

Leonard Peltier remains in prison, although efforts to win him pardon continue.

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U.S. withdraws from Vietnam

Year
1973
Month Day
March 29

Two months after the signing of the Vietnam peace agreement, the last U.S. combat troops leave South Vietnam as Hanoi frees the remaining American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. America’s direct eight-year intervention in the Vietnam War was at an end. In Saigon, some 7,000 U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees remained behind to aid South Vietnam in conducting what looked to be a fierce and ongoing war with communist North Vietnam.

In 1961, after two decades of indirect military aid, U.S. President John F. Kennedy sent the first large force of U.S. military personnel to Vietnam to bolster the ineffectual autocratic regime of South Vietnam against the communist North. Three years later, with the South Vietnamese government crumbling, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered limited bombing raids on North Vietnam, and Congress authorized the use of U.S. troops. By 1965, North Vietnamese offensives left President Johnson with two choices: escalate U.S. involvement or withdraw. Johnson ordered the former, and troop levels soon jumped to more than 300,000 as U.S. air forces commenced the largest bombing campaign in history.

READ MORE: How the Vietnam War Ratcheted Up Under 5 U.S. Presidents

During the next few years, the extended length of the war, the high number of U.S. casualties, and the exposure of U.S. involvement in war crimes, such as the massacre at My Lai, helped turn many in the United States against the Vietnam War. The communists’ Tet Offensive of 1968 crushed U.S. hopes of an imminent end to the conflict and galvanized U.S. opposition to the war. In response, Johnson announced in March 1968 that he would not seek reelection, citing what he perceived to be his responsibility in creating a perilous national division over Vietnam. He also authorized the beginning of peace talks.

In the spring of 1969, as protests against the war escalated in the United States, U.S. troop strength in the war-torn country reached its peak at nearly 550,000 men. Richard Nixon, the new U.S. president, began U.S. troop withdrawal and “Vietnamization” of the war effort that year, but he intensified bombing. Large U.S. troop withdrawals continued in the early 1970s as President Nixon expanded air and ground operations into Cambodia and Laos in attempts to block enemy supply routes along Vietnam’s borders. This expansion of the war, which accomplished few positive results, led to new waves of protests in the United States and elsewhere.

Finally, in January 1973, representatives of the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Vietcong signed a peace agreement in Paris, ending the direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War. Its key provisions included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the release of prisoners of war, and the reunification of North and South Vietnam through peaceful means. The South Vietnamese government was to remain in place until new elections were held, and North Vietnamese forces in the South were not to advance further nor be reinforced.

In reality, however, the agreement was little more than a face-saving gesture by the U.S. government. Even before the last American troops departed on March 29, the communists violated the cease-fire, and by early 1974 full-scale war had resumed. At the end of 1974, South Vietnamese authorities reported that 80,000 of their soldiers and civilians had been killed in fighting during the year, making it the most costly of the Vietnam War.

On April 30, 1975, the last few Americans still in South Vietnam were airlifted out of the country as Saigon fell to communist forces. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, accepting the surrender of South Vietnam later in the day, remarked, “You have nothing to fear; between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been defeated.” The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular foreign war in U.S. history and cost 58,000 American lives. As many as two million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed.

READ MORE: Vietnam War Timeline

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Release of U.S. POWs begins


Year
1973
Month Day
February 12

The release of U.S. POWs begins in Hanoi as part of the Paris peace settlement. The return of U.S. POWs began when North Vietnam released 142 of 591 U.S. prisoners at Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport. Part of what was called Operation Homecoming, the first 20 POWs arrived to a hero’s welcome at Travis Air Force Base in California on February 14. Operation Homecoming was completed on March 29, 1973, when the last of 591 U.S. prisoners were released and returned to the United States.

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