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When Fears of Tuberculosis Drove an Open-Air School Movement

July 30, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Intended to curb the spread of tuberculosis, open-air schools grew into a major international movement in the early 1900s.

As the 20th century dawned, tuberculosis—otherwise known as consumption, “white plague” or “white death”—had become the leading cause of death in the United States. The dreaded lung disease killed an estimated 450 Americans a day, most of them between the ages of 15 and 44.

At the time, tuberculosis was associated with dirty, unhygienic living conditions, which were common for the workers who had packed into the cities of Europe and the United States since the Industrial Revolution. With no effective medicine available (yet), the preferred treatment was the open-air cure, or exposing patients to as much fresh air and sunlight as possible. This led to the proliferation of tuberculosis sanitariums, ranging from luxe spa-like resorts to government-run institutions across Europe and the United States.

Though many of its victims were poor city dwellers, no one was immune to tuberculosis—especially not children. In fact, doctors and educators believed that the crowded classrooms and lack of fresh air in many schools helped spread the disease. To keep kids healthy, they decided to take school outside.

WATCH: ‘Battlefield Medicine’ on HISTORY Vault

Germany’s Pioneering ‘Forest School for Sickly Children’

Children learning outdoors at a Waldschule, meaning forest school, in Charlottenburg, Germany.

The open-air school movement was launched in Germany in 1904, when Dr. Bernhard Bendix, a leading German pediatrician, and Hermann Neufert, a Berlin school inspector, opened the first Waldschule für kränkliche Kinder (or “forest school for sickly children”) in Charlottenburg, near Berlin. True to its name, the school was located in the heart of a nearby forest, with simple wooden buildings used for instruction in cold or rainy weather. Students commuted from the city and most suffered from pre-tuberculosis symptoms such as anemia or swollen glands.

That first Waldschule launched a movement that spread quickly across Europe, with similar experimental schools opening in Belgium, Italy, England, Switzerland and Spain. After World War I, the movement became more formalized. The League for Open Air Education spearheaded the first International Congress, held in Paris in 1922; four more international conferences had taken place by 1956.

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

Open-Air Schools in the United States

Open-air class in manual training on the boat Southfield at Bellevue Hospital in …read more


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The 7 Oldest Presidents in History

July 30, 2020 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

The Founding Fathers only set an age minimum for U.S. presidents—not a maximum.

When the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention pondered the question of what age a president should be, the big concern wasn’t about the office-holder being too elderly, but too youthful.

George Mason was the principal advocate for age requirements for elective federal office, and his views were inscribed into the Constitution—over the objections of James Wilson,” explains John Seery, the George Irving Thompson Memorial Professor of Government and Professor of Politics at Pomona College, and author of the book Too Young to Run. “Rather than making a positive case in favor of the superior wisdom and maturity of elders, Mason derided the ‘deficiency of young politicians’ whose political opinions at the age of 21 would be ‘too crude & erroneous to merit an influence on public measures.’

“A generational smear, not an argument, won the day.”

As a result, Article II in the U.S. Constitution specifies a minimum age—35—but doesn’t set a maximum. In many instances, that’s enabled voters to elect presidents in their sixties and even in their seventies, an age when many ordinary citizens have retired.

WATCH: ‘The Presidents’ on HISTORY Vault

To some observers, the lack of an age limit for the nation’s highest office heightens the risk of getting a president who isn’t up to the rigors of the job. “I’m concerned about age-related dementia, which the job can accelerate given the pressure of the office,” explains Gary J. Schmitt, a resident scholar in strategic studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “But I’m also concerned about the higher percentage of the chance of death while in office, meaning we will be voting for one candidate but getting someone else who we have not vetted as seriously.”

If President Franklin Roosevelt had died while Henry A. Wallace was vice president instead of Harry Truman, for example, “U.S. history would likely have taken a quite different turn,” Schmitt notes.

Even so, with a few exceptions, most elderly U.S. presidents seem to have been remarkably vigorous and capable. Here’s a list of the seven who were the oldest when they left office.

Ronald Reagan

President Ronald Reagan in 1980 in Los Angeles, California.

Born February 6, 1911, the nation’s 40th president was 77 years and 349 days old at the completion of his second term in January 1989. While campaigning …read more


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5 Vice Presidential Candidates Who Made History

July 29, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

Some undid the work of their running mate, others bolstered their ticket.

Picking a vice president can be dicey. Although the presidential candidate is the main focus in an election, there’s a chance that a popular or particularly adept veep can help the ticket, just as a particularly unpopular or offensive candidate can hurt it.

The selection is also done with the understanding that the vice president could become president if anything happens to the elected commander-in-chief. Out of the United States’ 45 presidents, nine came to the position via vice presidential succession. In eight of those cases, it was because the previous president died. Gerald Ford is an outlier because he ascended to the presidency after Richard Nixon resigned, and also because he’s the only president who wasn’t elected via a presidential ticket. (Nixon appointed Ford in 1973 after his elected vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned.)

Even though they can be overlooked, vice presidential candidates often have an impact whether they win or lose. Here are some of the most notable ones—for better or for worse—in U.S. history.

1. Andrew Johnson

A Grand National Union Banner depicting President Abraham Lincoln and his running mate Andrew Johnson

During the Civil War’s election of 1864, Republican President Abraham Lincoln picked Democrat Andrew Johnson for his running mate as a unifying gesture. Unfortunately, the “unifying” candidate was averse to compromise. When Johnson became president after Lincoln’s assassination, the former slavery supporter vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (which Congress passed through override) and opposed the 14th Amendment.

READ MORE: “How the Union Pulled Off a Presidential Election During the Civil War”

“For the most part, historians view Andrew Johnson as the worst possible person to have served as President at the end of the American Civil War,” writes Elizabeth R. Varon, a history professor at the University of Virginia, for the university’s Miller Center. “He is viewed to have been a rigid, dictatorial racist who was unable to compromise or to accept a political reality at odds with his own ideas.”

In addition, Johnson was the first president ever impeached. The House of Representatives voted to impeach him in 1868 for violating the Tenure of Office Act, and the Senate fell short of convicting him by one vote. He served the remainder of the term he took over for Lincoln but didn’t receive a nomination to run for another.

2. James …read more


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Photos: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Before and After the Bombs

July 28, 2020 in History

By Madison Horne

Before the 1945 atomic blasts, they were thriving cities—and virgin targets. In a flash, they became desolate wastelands.

In early August 1945, warfare changed forever when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, devastating the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killing more than 100,000 people. America’s immediate goal was to hasten Japan’s surrender, end World War II and avoid further Allied casualties. But it also wanted to showcase to the world—the Soviet Union in particular—the hugely destructive power of its new technology. The images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki below illustrate that power: what Japan’s Emperor Hirohito called in his statement of surrender “a new and most cruel bomb.”

WATCH: Hiroshima: 75 Years Later premieres Sunday, August 2 at 9/8c.

Hiroshima: Before and After

Satellite view of Hiroshima, Japan

On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., the crew of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the first wartime atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, a bustling regional hub that served as an important military communications center, storage depot and troop gathering area. The bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” detonated with an estimated 15,000 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city and directly killing some 70,000 people. Final casualty numbers remain unknown; by the end of 1945, injuries and radiation sickness had raised the death toll to more than 100,000. In subsequent years, cancer and other long-term radiation effects steadily drove the number higher.

The downtown Hiroshima shopping district, c. 1945. After the bombing, only rubble and a few utility poles remained.

A man wheels his bicycle through Hiroshima, days after the city was leveled by the atomic bomb blast. The view here is looking west/northwest, about 550 feet from where the bomb hit.

Looking upriver on the Motoyasu-gawa River, circa 1945.

View of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial with the Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome), seen from the bank of the Ota River in Hiroshima, Japan in 1965, 20 years after the atomic bomb blast that destroyed the city center.

Nagasaki: Before and After

Satellite view of Nagasaki, Japan

Three days after the destruction of Hiroshima, another American bomber dropped its payload over Nagasaki, some 185 miles southwest of Hiroshima, at 11:02 a.m. Not the original intended blast site, Nagasaki only became the target after the crew found that city, Kokura, obscured by clouds. The Nagasaki explosive, a plutonium bomb code-named “Fat …read more


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Operation Tidal Wave: U.S. forces attempt risky air raid on Axis oil refineries

July 28, 2020 in History

By Editors

On August 1, 1943, 177 B-24 bombers take off from an Allied base in Libya, bound for the oil-producing city Ploiești, Romania, nicknamed “Hitler’s gas station.” The daring raid, known as Operation Tidal Wave, resulted in five men being awarded the Medal of Honor—three of them posthumously—but failed to strike the fatal blow its planners had intended.

Operation Tidal Wave began ominously, with an overloaded bomber crashing shortly after takeoff and another plunging into the Adriatic Sea. 167 of the original 177 bombers made it to Ploiești, whose oil fields and refineries provided the Germans with over 8.5 million tons of oil per year. Whereas most Allied bombing in …read more


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How the Greensboro Four Sit-In Sparked a Movement

July 28, 2020 in History

By Nadra Kareem Nittle

When four Black students refused to move from a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, nation-wide student activism gained momentum.

On February 1, 1960, four Black college freshmen, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond, sat down at a “whites-only” Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. and politely asked for service. The white waiter refused and suggested they order a take-out meal from the “stand-up” counter. But the students did not budge. The store manager then approached the men, asking them to leave. But they did not move. They also did not give up their seats when a police officer arrived and menacingly slapped his nightstick against his hand directly behind them.

While lunch counter sit-ins had taken place before, the four young men from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University drew national attention to the cause. By simply remaining in their seats peacefully and quietly, they flummoxed the staff and left them unsure on how to enforce their “whites-only” rule. Eventually the manager closed the store early and the men left—with the rest of the customers.

It was a small victory—and one that would build. The Greensboro Four’s efforts inspired a sit-in movement that eventually spread to 55 cities in 13 states. Not only were lunch counters across the country integrated one by one, a student movement was galvanized.

“The sit-ins establish a crucial kind of leadership and organizing of young people,” says Jeanne Theoharis, a Brooklyn College political science professor. “They mean that young people are going to be one of the major driving forces in terms of how the civil rights movement is going to unfold.”

WATCH: The Civil Rights Movement on HISTORY Vault

Greensboro Sit-In Took Months of Planning

The Greensboro sit-in wasn’t a random act of rebellion, but the result of months of planning. The students had received guidance from mentor activists and collaborated with students from Greensboro’s all-women’s Bennett College. They also took inspiration from civil rights causes of years earlier, including the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till and the Montgomery bus boycott.

One member of the Greensboro Four, Joseph McNeil, resolved to integrate lunch counters after a 1959 trip to New York, a city where he hadn’t encountered Jim Crow laws. Upon his return to North Carolina, the Greensboro Trailways Bus Terminal Cafe denied him service at its lunch counter, making him determined to fight …read more


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When the 'Capitol Crawl' Dramatized the Need for Americans with Disabilities Act

July 24, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

The 1990 protest demonstrated the barriers that inaccessible buildings create for people with disabilities.

On March 13, 1990, over 1,000 people marched from the about her Capitol climb. “I realized these people with disabilities are fighting for their right to be acknowledged and accepted…and I can too, and I want to be a part of that.”

When Keelan-Chaffins showed up to the Capitol Crawl, some organizers weren’t sure it was a good idea for her to climb the steps. This was because she was a child, and also because “they were concerned about what that could do, the image of me climbing the steps, and whether or not it would send a message of pity instead of empowerment,” she says.

ADAPT founder Reverend Wade Blank told her that if she wanted to climb the steps then she should do it, so she got out of her wheelchair and began climbing.

“Even though I was quite young, I realized that as one of the very few kids that got to be involved in this movement…it wasn’t just about myself but it was about them as well,” she says.

Legislative Victories Before the ADA

Disability rights groups have existed in the United States since at least the 19th century. In the decades leading up to the ADA, activists won legislative victories, gaining access to education, housing, transportation and federal buildings. In particular, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 set an important legal precedent for “disability” as a protected category.

The 1990 Capitol Crawl was part of a week of demonstrations in D.C. around the ADA, which sought to provide stronger protections for disability rights than any U.S. law before it. The day after the crawl, police arrested 104 people at an ADAPT protest inside the Capitol rotunda. One of them was Keelan-Chaffins’ mother, Cynthia Keelan.

Disabled citizens crawling up Capitol steps to rally support for Americans with Disabilities Act on March 12, 1990.

“We all pretended like we were going for the tour,” Keelan says. “Once we got everybody up into the Capitol rotunda, then we all sat down or stood there and said we want to meet with the Speaker of the House.”

READ MORE: “‘Good Trouble’: How John Lewis and Other Civil Rights Crusaders Expected Arrests”

The year before in Montreal, police had arrested both Keelan and seven-year-old Keelan-Chaffins while protesting a conference for the American Public Transportation Association. Ironically, the police had to …read more


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5 Presidents Who Lost the Popular Vote But Won the Election

July 23, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

These presidential candidates didn’t need to secure more popular votes to win election, due to the Electoral College system.

Of the 58 presidential elections in the history of the United States, 53 of the winners took both the Electoral College and the popular vote. But in five incredibly close elections—including those for two of the past three presidents—the winner of the Electoral College was in fact the loser of the popular vote.

Here’s how that can happen: The U.S. president and vice president aren’t elected by direct popular vote. Instead, Article II, section I of the Constitution provides for the indirect election of the nation’s highest offices by a group of state-appointed “electors.” Collectively, this group is known as the Electoral College.

READ MORE: What Is the Electoral College and Why Was It Created?

To win a modern presidential election, a candidate needs to capture 270 of the 538 total electoral votes. States are allotted electoral votes based on the number of representatives they have in the House plus their two senators. Electors are apportioned according to the population of each state, but even the least populous states are constitutionally guaranteed a minimum of three electors (one representative and two senators).

This guaranteed minimum means that states with smaller populations end up having greater representation in the Electoral College per capita. Wyoming, for example, has one House representative for all of its roughly 570,000 residents. California, a much more populous state, has 53 representatives in the House, but each of those congressmen and women represent more than 700,000 Californians.

Since most states (48 plus Washington, D.C.) award all of their electoral votes to the person who wins the statewide popular vote, it’s mathematically possible to win more electoral votes while still losing the popular vote. For example, if one candidate wins by large percentages in a handful of very populous states, for example, they’ll probably win the popular vote. But if their opponent wins a bunch of smaller states by tight margins, he or she could still win the Electoral College. That’s basically what happened in 2016.

Take a look at all five times a president won the White House while losing the popular vote.

John Quincy Adams (1824)

John Quincy Adams, 6th president of the United States.

This is the first of two occasions when the man ultimately elected president first lost both the popular vote and …read more


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Huge, Hovering and Silent: The Mystery of 'Black Triangle' UFOs

July 22, 2020 in History

By Greg Daugherty & Missy Sullivan

Some speculate they are super-secret US spy craft. Others question whether they might be from elsewhere, conducting some kind of surveillance.

Within the larger mystery of the UFO phenomenon is another, still-unsolved puzzle: Why do so many reports involve strange, triangular-shaped craft—often described as dark in color, virtually noiseless and the size of a football field or larger? What, exactly, are they? And why are so many witnessed hovering or moving slowly and methodically, with no visible contrails?

In the years after the U.S. Air Force coined the term “unidentified flying object” in 1952, reports often referred to UFOs generically as flying saucers. But witnesses then, and since, have described a wide array of shapes: saucers (or two saucers put together), eggs, hats, cigars, boomerangs, lightbulbs—even Tic Tac candies.

Among the most commonly reported shapes were V-shaped, arrowhead-like or triangular. David Marler, UFO researcher and author of Triangular UFOs: An Estimate of the Situation, says he has reviewed more than 17,000 case files involving unidentified triangular craft, sometimes called “black triangles.” Whether the sightings represent advanced U.S. spy craft—as some speculate—or something of unknown origin, their purpose remains mysterious. Given their consistent hovering behavior, Marler says, they might be engaged in “surveillance of some nature—or scanning. Or analyzing the topography.”

“There have been many instances in which these vehicles have been observed over bases operated by the Strategic Air Command,” says Chris Mellon, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, whose career has focused on unconventional threats to American security. Mellon is now an integral part of the investigative team featured on HISTORY’s “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation.”

READ MORE: Are UFOs a Threat to National Security? This Ex-US Official Thinks They Warrant Investigation

An International Phenomenon

In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, triangular UFO reports hailed from across the U.S. and beyond. During the 1960s, at the height of Cold War UFO fever, mysterious flying triangles were reported over Connecticut, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas—as well as London, Madrid and Czechoslovakia. In 1969, two National Guard pilots tailed a “triangular shaped object, 50 feet in diameter” for 20 minutes over San Juan, Puerto Rico, until they ran low on fuel and had to return to their base. Many of these incidents would be attributed by officials to atmospheric conditions, weather balloons or other everyday sources, but …read more


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Hiroshima, Then Nagasaki: Why the US Deployed the Second A-Bomb

July 21, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

The explicit reason was to swiftly end the war with Japan. But it was also intended to send a message to the Soviets.

Ever since America dropped a second that by July 1945 there had been no sign of “any weakening in the Japanese determination to fight rather than accept unconditional surrender.” Meanwhile, the U.S. was planning to ramp up its sea and air blockade of Japan, increase strategic air bombings and launch an invasion of the Japanese home island that November.

“We estimated that if we should be forced to carry this plan to its conclusion, the major fighting would not end until the latter part of 1946, at the earliest,” Stimson wrote. “I was informed that such operations might be expected to cost over a million casualties, to American forces alone.”

READ MORE: The Hiroshima Bombing Didn’t Just End WWII. It Kick-Started the Cold War

The center area where the bomb struck in Nagasaki, photographed on September 13, 1945. The two shacks in the foreground have been constructed from pieces of tin picked up in the ruins.

The Other Reason? Get the Soviet Union’s Attention

Despite the arguments of Stimson and others, historians have long debated whether the United States was justified in using the atomic bomb in Japan at all—let alone twice. Various military and civilian officials have said publicly that the bombings weren’t a military necessity. Japanese leaders knew they were beaten even before Hiroshima, as Secretary of State James F. Byrnes argued on August 29, 1945, and had reached out to the Soviets to see if they would mediate in possible peace negotiations. Even the famously hawkish General Curtis LeMay told the press in September 1945 that “the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”

Statements like these have led historians such as Gar Alperovitz, author of The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, to suggest that the bomb’s true purpose was to get the upper hand with the Soviet Union. According to this line of thinking, the United States deployed the plutonium bomb on Nagasaki to make clear the strength of its nuclear arsenal, ensuring the nation’s supremacy in the global power hierarchy.

Others have argued that both attacks were simply an experiment, to see how well the two types of atomic weapons developed by the Manhattan Project worked. Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, …read more