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Here's What the New Deal-Era Civilian Conservation Corps Accomplished

May 28, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

On the heels of the Great Depression, the federal government under FDR hired young people to work as an army of tree planters, firefighters and even ski trail blazers.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in as president in 1933, he took the helm of a United States brought to its knees by the Great Depression. With unemployment as high as 25 percent, millions were out of work and an entire generation of young people had lost hope in their futures, many living in makeshift shanty towns and riding the rails as hobos and drifters.

In his inaugural address, FDR latched on to an idea that was already being tested in states like California and Pennsylvania—to employ young people as an environmental army of tree planters, forest firefighters and soil conservationists.

“Our greatest primary task is to put people to work,” said FDR. “This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt visiting a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in Virginia on August 12, 1933.

On March 31, 1933, FDR signed the Federal Unemployment Relief Act, which recruited healthy unmarried young men to join what would become known as the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC. The men, mostly uneducated and untrained, were paid $30 a month, $25 of which was sent directly to their families. They lived in racially segregated camps that operated under military-style rules, but they had money in their pockets and food in their bellies.

At its peak in 1935, the CCC enrolled 500,000 men at 2,600 camps across the country. The popular New Deal program was phased out by 1942 as the same young enrollees enlisted for World War II.

Over its nine-year run, the CCC accomplished its dual goals of rescuing a lost generation and restoring the nation’s squandered natural wealth. The following are just some of the CCC’s accomplishments.

WATCH: ‘Bust’ from ‘America the Story of Us’ on HISTORY Vault

The CCC Planted 3.5 Billion Trees

When FDR was just 19 years old, he was put in charge of the Roosevelt family’s aging estate …read more


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What Was the Beast of Gévaudan?

May 28, 2020 in History

By Joseph A. Williams

Between 1765 and 1767, an unknown creature killed over 100 people in a rural region of France—and captivated a horrified world.

Between 1764 and 1767 a mysterious creature called the Beast ravaged the rural region of Gévaudan, France. About 100 men, women and children reportedly fell victim to La Bête du Gévaudan. While many French at the time presumed the Beast to be a wolf and many modern scholars agree, some have suggested that the Beast may not have been a wolf at all.

So what was it?

‘Like a Wolf, Yet Not a Wolf’

Illustration of the Beast of Gévaudan, circa 1765.

The first , “Gévaudan had a serious wolf infestation.” He believes that large lone wolves were attacking individual communities across the region or that it was a wolf pack.

Smith asserts that many of the fantastical qualities attributed to the Beast were induced by clergy who stirred up fear in the populace that God was punishing the French for its defeat in the Seven Years’ War. For hunters, killing the beast was a way of reclaiming France’s lost honor.

Wolves are native to the region and had attacked humans before—some statistics show that wolves attacked humans 9,000 times in France between the 17th and 19th centuries. In most cases these types of attacks were by rabid wolves.

There are some potential flaws to the wolf theory, including the frequency of the Beast’s deadly attacks, suggesting it was not a single rabid wolf. Also none of its victims seem to have contracted rabies, suggesting that their attacker also did not carry rabies.

Although there are strong voices arguing multiple theories about the identity of the Beast of Gévaudan, all admit that the truth will never be fully known. Without any genetic or forensic evidence, the Beast of Gévaudan is bound to forever remain a mystery.

…read more


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Presidents Working From Home—in Photos

May 27, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

Working from home may be an unusual perk for some, but for presidents it’s standard.

One of the benefits of being a U.S. president is you get to work from home. Ever since John Adams moved into the White House in 1800, every subsequent president has gotten the chance to live in his official workplace in Washington, D.C.

Like many other Americans who work from home, this means presidents have gotten the opportunity to spend more time with their families. In recent history, President Barack Obama praised this set-up for helping him balance work and family life as commander-in-chief.

“[P]erhaps the greatest unexpected gift of this job has been living above the store,” he wrote in a 2016 essay for Glamour. “For many years my life was consumed by long commutes­… But for the past seven and a half years, that commute has been reduced to 45 seconds—the time it takes to walk from my living room to the Oval Office. As a result, I’ve been able to spend a lot more time watching my daughters grow up into smart, funny, kind, wonderful young women.”

Photographers have captured cute photos of presidential kids playing in the Oval Office, and also documented social events with presidential children. Richard Nixon’s daughter Tricia married Ed Cox at the White House during her father’s presidency. Gerald Ford also arranged for his daughter Susan’s senior prom to take place at the White House.

Because presidents take their work with them wherever they go, photographers have also captured presidents working at their private residences in their home states. In these settings, presidents have often worn more casual wear, as when President George W. Bush wore jeans during his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. There have also been candid images of commanders-in-chief working in their robes and pajamas, either at the White House or elsewhere.

Click through the gallery below to see photos of presidents working from home over the decades, plus one painting of George Washington working from his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia. (He is the only president who never lived in the White House, as it wasn’t built yet.)

President Ronald Reagan, clad in pajamas and bathrobe at the White House, talking on telephone to Robert McFarlane and Secretary of State George Shultz, regarding urgent request from …read more


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As the 1918 Flu Emerged, Cover-Up and Denial Helped It Spread

May 26, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

Nations fighting in World War I were reluctant to report their flu outbreaks.

“. “The government can slam what’s called a D-Notice on [a news story]—‘D’ for Defense—and it means it can’t be published because it’s not in the national interest.”

Both newspapers and public officials claimed during the flu’s first wave in the spring and early summer of 1918 that it wasn’t a serious threat. The Illustrated London News wrote that the 1918 flu was “so mild as to show that the original virus is becoming attenuated by frequent transmission.” Sir Arthur Newsholme, chief medical officer of the British Local Government Board, suggested it was unpatriotic to be concerned with the flu rather than the war, Arnold says.

The flu’s second wave, which began in late summer and worsened that fall, was far deadlier. Even so, warring nations continued to try to hide it. In August, the interior minister of Italy—another Allied Power—denied reports of the flu’s spread. In September, British officials and newspaper barons suppressed news that the prime minister had caught the flu while on a morale-boosting trip to Manchester. Instead, the Manchester Guardian explained his extended stay in the city by claiming he’d caught a “severe chill” in a rainstorm.

READ MORE: Why the Second Wave of the 1918 Flu Was So Deadly

Warring nations covered up the flu to protect morale among their own citizens and soldiers, but also because they didn’t want enemy nations to know they were suffering an outbreak. The flu devastated General Erich Ludendorff’s German troops so badly that he had to put off his last offensive. The general, whose empire fought for the Central Powers, was anxious to hide his troops’ flu outbreaks from the opposing Allied Powers.

“Ludendorff is famous for observing [flu outbreaks among soldiers] and saying, oh my god this is the end of the war,” Byerly says. “His soldiers are getting influenza and he doesn’t want anybody to know, because then the French could attack him.”

The Pandemic in the United States

Patients at U. S. Army Hospital No. 30 at a movie wear masks because of an influenza epidemic.

The United States entered WWI as an Allied Power in April 1917. A little over a year later, it passed the 1918 Sedition Act, which made it a crime to say anything the government perceived as harming the country or the war effort. …read more


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Missing in Action: How Military Families in Tortuous Limbo Galvanized a Movement

May 20, 2020 in History

By Jessica Pearce Rotondi

In the wake of the Vietnam War, families of military members who never returned from service banded together to demand an accounting.

“MIA” stands for missing in action, a term used to refer to members of the armed forces who have not returned from military service and whose whereabouts are unknown. Since ancient times, soldiers have gone to war and never returned, their fate unknown. In the wake of the Vietnam War, families of American MIAs began organizing to demand an accounting. The hunt continues. As of May 2020, 1,587 American service members were still missing in Southeast Asia.

How Many Americans Are Still Missing In Action?

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the agency within the Department of Defense responsible for tracking down MIAs, reported in May 2020 that 81,900 Americans were still considered MIA: 72,598 from World War II, 7,580 from the Korean War, 1,587 from Vietnam, 126 from the Cold War, and six from conflicts since 1991. Advances in DNA technology, increased access to crash sites or battlegrounds in territory once hostile to Americans and ongoing international negotiations have helped bring more and more open cases to a close.

Still, the issue of MIAs remains a controversial one, with accusations of government cover-ups continuing to foster distrust among families of the missing, particularly surrounding repatriation efforts in Korea and Vietnam.

Read More: Lost Tuskegee Airman’s Body May Have Been Found

Korean War MIAs

Members of the Army’s Old Guard carry the casket U.S. Army Cpl. Robert E. Meyers during a burial service at Arlington National Cemetery on October 26, 2015. Meyers, whose remains were identified due to advances in technology, was declared missing in action in December of 1950 after his unit was involved in combat operations near Sonchu, North Korea.

Because the Korean War never officially ended—no peace treaty was ever formally signed—the recovery of American remains is complicated. Ongoing tensions between the United States and North Korea further impede the process.

In Korea, advancing American forces buried their dead in temporary cemeteries, assuming they could go back and claim the bodies once the war was won, as they had in World War II. When victory in Korea did not materialize, access to these burial sites didn’t, either. Then there were the battles Americans lost that precluded the recording and burial of fallen American soldiers—like the Battle …read more


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Why Hitler Secretly Met With a Japanese General During WWII

May 19, 2020 in History

By Natasha Frost

Tomoyuki Yamashita and the Führer had their own separate agendas. Later, they would share a mutual interest in gold.

In December 1940, three months after Japan, Germany and Italy signed their “Tripartite Pact” World War II alliance, a convoy of Japanese military leaders headed for Berlin to learn from their new allies.

At the head of the group was General Tomoyuki Yamashita, a veteran militarist who had spent his entire adult life in the business of war-making. Now rising through the ranks of the Imperial Japanese Army, Yamashita’s ascent had barely begun. Within the space of a few years, he would grow famous worldwide as the “Tiger of Malaya”: a ferocious military leader and the brains behind the brutal Japanese conquest of Singapore.

Watch full episodes of Lost Gold of World War II online now and tune in for all-new episodes Tuesdays at 9/8c.

Yamashita and the Führer didn’t see eye to eye.

Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita seated between German officers during his visit to the 53rd German Bomber Wing, near Calais, France, part of his clandestine tour of Nazi World War II military operations.

Weeks after arriving in Germany, Yamashita was presented to Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader. Each had his own objective for the meeting. Hitler intended to pressure the Japanese military into declaring war on Britain and the United States. Facing the wrath of Russia and the ongoing costs of Japan’s war on China, however, Yamashita had no interest. Instead, he hoped to inspect Germany’s military techniques and improve Japan’s own prospects at war. Despite Hitler’s hearty promises of an open exchange of information, the Japanese delegation’s questions about radar and other equipment were tossed aside by top Nazi officials. The Japanese were instead treated to a kind of “greatest hits” tour of German military sites around occupied territories.

READ MORE: Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor?

Privately, Yamashita was underwhelmed by the Führer. “He may be a great orator on a platform,” he told staff, “but standing behind his desk listening, he seems much more like a clerk.” Nonetheless, he played up the relationship publicly, telling the Berlin correspondent of the Asahi newspaper that Hitler had been profoundly influenced by Japan’s military power since boyhood. “Hitler emphasized that in the coming age the interests of Japan and Germany would be identical as the two have common spiritual foundations,” he said. “Hitler and Mussolini …read more


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When Galileo Stood Trial for Defending Science

May 19, 2020 in History

By Mario Livio

The Italian astronomer argued that Earth and other planets revolve around the sun. Then he paid a price.

Four centuries ago, the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei put his liberty and life on the line to convince the religious establishment that the Copernican model of the solar system—in which the Earth and the other planets revolved around the sun—represented physical reality.

Following his own observations and the findings by other astronomers, no one could really argue anymore that what one saw through the telescope was an optical illusion, and not a faithful reproduction of the world. The only defense remaining to those refusing to accept the conclusions first proposed by Nicolaus Copernicus, a Renaissance-era mathematician and astronomer, and bolstered by accumulating facts and scientific reasoning, was to reject the interpretation of the results.

Theologians concluded that a moving Earth and a stationary sun were in conflict with literal interpretations of scripture, and with the Ptolemaic geocentric model, which had been adopted as the Catholic Church’s orthodoxy. The deniers cited, for example, the book of Joshua, in which, at Joshua’s request, God commanded the sun, and not the Earth, to stand still over the ancient Canaanite city of Gibeon.

WATCH: How the Earth Was Made on HISTORY Vault

Inquisition of Galileo Is Launched Under Pope

Galileo Galilei before members of the Holy Office in the Vatican in 1633.

Galileo, however, went on to publish his book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, in which he derided those who refused to accept the Copernican system. On April 12, 1633, chief inquisitor Father Vincenzo Maculano, appointed by Pope Urban VIII, launched an inquisition of Galileo and ordered the astronomer to appear in the Holy Office to begin trial.

The trial of Galileo, a man described by Albert Einstein as “the father of modern science,” took place in three sessions, on April 12, April 30 and May 10 in 1633. The sentence was delivered on June 22.

In the first session, prosecutor Maculano introduced a warning issued against Galileo 17 years earlier, in which Galileo was ordered by the Church’s Commissary General to abandon his Copernican ideas and not to defend or teach them in any way. This document was significant, since in his book (published in 1632), Galileo presented arguments favoring the Copernicus model, even though he added a preface and a coda which appeared to imply that one couldn’t conclude …read more


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When Did People Start Eating in Restaurants?

May 18, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

France may be famous for its culinary legacy, but the first restaurants appeared some 600 years earlier on the other side of the world.

People have been eating outside of the home for millennia, buying a quick snack from a street vendor or taking a travel break at a roadside inn for a bowl of stew and a pint of mead.

In the West, most early versions of the modern restaurant came from France and a culinary revolution launched in 18th-century Paris. But one of the earliest examples of a true restaurant culture began 600 years earlier and halfway around the world.

Singing Waiters of the Song Dynasty

A scene in what is thought to be the ancient capital of Kaifeng showing food stalls from a scroll titled ‘Going Up the River at the Qingming Festival’ by Zhang Zeduan, circa 1100.

According to Elliott Shore and Katie Rawson, co-authors of , Spang explains that the very first French restaurants arrived in the 1760s and 1770s, and they capitalized on a growing Enlightenment-era sensibility among the wealthy merchant class in Paris.

“They believed that knowledge was obtained by being sensitive to the world around you, and one way of showing sensitivity was by not eating the ‘coarse’ foods associated with common people,” says Spang. “You might not have aristocratic forebears, but you can show that you’re something other than a peasant by not eating brown bread, not relishing onions and sausage, but wanting delicate dishes.”

Bouillon fit the bill perfectly. It was all-natural, bland, easy to digest, yet packed full of invigorating nutrients. But Spang credits the success and rapid growth of these early bouillon restaurants not just to what was being served, but how it was served.

“The restaurateurs innovated by copying the service model that already existed in French café culture,” says Spang. “They sat customers at a small, cafe-size table. They had a printed menu from which people ordered dishes as opposed to the tavern keeper saying, ‘this is what’s for lunch today.’ And they were more flexible in their meal hours—everybody didn’t have to get there at 1 p.m. and eat whatever was on the table.”

Once the bouillon restaurants caught on, it didn’t take long for other items to show up on the menu. A little wine, perhaps, some stewed chicken. By the late 1780s, the health-conscious bouillon shops had evolved into the first grand …read more


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The Post World War II Boom: How America Got Into Gear

May 14, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

After years of wartime rationing, American consumers were ready to spend money—and factories made the switch from war to peace-time production.

In the summer of 1945, as , U.S. businesses at the time were still “geared around producing tanks and planes, not clapboard houses and refrigerators.”

Americans Were Ready to Spend

View of the assembly line and workers at the Studebaker automobile manufacturing plant in South Bend, Indiana, 1946.

Some economists even predicted a new crisis of mass unemployment and inflation, arguing that private businesses couldn’t possibly generate the massive amounts of capital necessary to run the pumped-up wartime factories during peacetime. A report released in mid-1945 by Senator James Mead of New York took this opinion, arguing that if the war in the Pacific ended quickly, “the United States would find itself largely unprepared to overcome unemployment on a large scale.”

But history proved the pessimists wrong. Most returning veterans had no trouble finding jobs, according to Herman. U.S. factories that had proven so essential to the war effort quickly mobilized for peacetime, rising to meet the needs of consumers who had been encouraged to save up their money in preparation for just such a post-war boom.

Photos: Rationing During Word War II

During World War II, every American was entitled to a series of war ration books filled with stamps that could be used to buy restricted items (along with payment), and within weeks of the first issuance, more than 91 percent of the U.S. population had registered to receive them.

View the 10 images of this gallery on the original article

By the summer of 1945, Americans had been living under wartime rationing policies for more than three years, including limits on such common goods as rubber, sugar, gasoline, fuel oil, coffee, meat, butter, milk and soap. Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s Office of Price Administration (OPA) had encouraged the public to save up their money (ideally by buying war bonds) for a brighter future. In her book A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, Lizabeth Cohen reported that by 1945, Americans were saving an average of 21 percent of their personal disposable income, compared to just 3 percent in the 1920s.

READ MORE: 8 Unusual Wartime Conservation Measures

With the war finally over, American consumers were eager to spend their money, on everything from big-ticket items like homes, cars and …read more


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How Did Billy the Kid Die?

May 14, 2020 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

Even though a widely-accepted account says the outlaw was shot by Sheriff Pat Garrett in New Mexico, murky details have led to other theories.

Western outlaw Billy the Kid , one prospective Billy was John Miller, a farmer and horse trainer who lived in a small village in New Mexico near the Arizona border and died in 1937. (His few possessions reportedly included a pistol with 21 notches on the grip, the same as the number of killings that some accounts attribute to Billy. The other, a resident of Hico, Texas named Ollie “Brushy Bill” Roberts, actually managed to get a meeting with the governor of New Mexico in 1950, in which he unsuccessfully sought a pardon for Billy’s murders. He died soon afterward.

The persistent belief that Billy the Kid survived and hid out somewhere shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, explains Jim Motavalli, author of The Real Dirt on America’s Frontier Outlaws, that examines the legends and the reality of various famed desperados of the American West. After all, similar stories have arisen after the deaths of other people who captured the public imagination, from Elvis Presley to Adolf Hitler.

“Things like this typically start out as bar stories,” Motavalli says. “You want someone to buy you a drink, so you say, ‘I’m Billy the Kid.’”

To add to the confusion, the actual facts about Billy the Kid haven’t been easy to come by. Details of his early life are sketchy, and much of what was written about him just before and after his death was what Motavalli calls “scurrilous literature”—sensationalized newspaper accounts and quickie books churned out by publishing houses. “They didn’t do a lot of actual research when they did these biographies,” Motavalli says.

Pat Garrett’s Account of Billy the Kid’s Death

The 1882 biography The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, Noted Desperado of the Southwest, Whose Deeds of Daring and Blood Made His Name a Terror in New Mexico, Arizona and Northern Mexico, which was written by Garrett, his killer, contains what seems to be the most credible account of the fatal confrontation, according to Motavalli. Instead of depicting an epic gunfight out of a dime novel, Garrett makes his shooting of the outlaw seem like an incredibly lucky break.

That night, Garrett wrote, he and two deputies, John W. Poe and Thomas McKinney, went to the ranch where Maxwell …read more