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On 9/11, Heather Penney Tried to Bring Down Flight 93 in a Kamikaze Mission

September 8, 2020 in History

By Greg Timmons

Her father might have been the pilot of United Flight 93, but Penney and her commanding officer had a singular focus.

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How Ancient Sparta's Harsh Military System Trained Boys Into Fierce Warriors

September 8, 2020 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

The Greek city-state imposed brutal training and contests that began at age 7.

Thanks in part to the battle of, Spartan youth had to present themselves for regular inspections in the nude, and boys who didn’t look sufficiently fit were flogged.

Spartan Boys Endured Brutal Contests

Young Spartan sportsmen training.

In addition to foot races and wrestling, their sports included a particularly brutal contest in which two teams would try to drive each other off an island by pushing, kicking, biting and gouging their opponents, according to Kyle’s book.

To make life even tougher, Spartan boys were fed a meager diet. Xenophon, a philosopher and historian who lived from the late 400s to mid-300s B.C., noted that one purpose was to keep them slim, which Lycurgus, the founder of the Spartan system, believed would make them grow taller. But the boys’ hunger was also intended to embolden them to steal food from gardens and other places “in order to make the boys more resourceful in getting supplies, and better fighting men,” Xenophon wrote. But to make sure they learned cunning, boys who were caught stealing were whipped.

Such harsh punishment was a prominent part of the Spartan training system. The Spartans even turned it into an annual ritual, in which boys tried to steal cheeses from a temple altar, which required them to evade guards armed with whips.

“Whipping was a test of courage and stoicism,” Reiter says. “Boys looked forward to the public display of their fortitude.”

The Agoge was a “trial by ordeal,” as Paul Cartledge, a professor emeritus of Greek culture at the University of Cambridge, wrote in his 2003 book Spartan Reflections. But it was a vital step toward being selected for one of the messes, the communal dining groups, and becoming a full-fledged Spartan citizen and soldier.

WATCH: Spartan Vengeance on HISTORY Vault

Were Spartans Better Fighters?

Spartans: Implements of Death (TV-PG; 2:30)

WATCH: Spartans: Implements of Death

Strictly speaking, the Agoge didn’t include military training, which didn’t start in earnest until they became adult soldiers. Its real focus was to prepare Spartan males to be compliant members of society, who were ready to sacrifice their all for Sparta. Unlike other Greek city-states, Sparta “was exceptional in its socio-political stability,” Hodkinson says. “Part of the reason for this was that the boys’ upbringing had instilled behaviors that encouraged harmony and cooperation.”

But Spartan schooling’s emphasis on fitness did …read more


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How the US Post Office Has Delivered the Mail Through the Decades

September 8, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

From stagecoach to pneumatic tube, the post office finds a way to get Americans their mail.

It’s impossible to separate the history of the United States from the history of its post office. After all, Benjamin Franklin was appointed the nation’s first postmaster general all the way back in 1775, after his fellow colonists rebelled against Britain’s Royal Mail and established the Post Office Department, the forerunner of the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Ever since, the post office has made it its mission to deliver the mail to all Americans, reaching ever further and faster to keep pace with the growing nation. From horse-drawn carriage to railroad to pneumatic tube, here’s a brief history of how the post office has delivered the mail over nearly two and a half centuries.

A horse-drawn mail wagon, USA, circa 1910.

View the 14 images of this gallery on the original article

Horseback Riders

Post riders, the earliest postal carriers in American history, traveled along a system of post roads that the Constitution authorized the federal government to create. The roads connected small post offices, where people would wait in long lines to collect their mail. By 1789, 75 Post Offices and about 2,400 miles of post roads served a population of almost 4 million.


A Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach, the first overland mail service to California, picking up U.S. mail and passengers circa 1857 in Arizona.

By the late 1700s, stagecoaches (large horse-drawn vehicles) had begun to replace individual post riders on the roads. At the urging of Congress, the post office granted contracts to stagecoach lines to help link Eastern communities with the expanding frontier. The Gold Rush opened the floodgates of Westward migration in the 1850s, and stagecoaches carried mail along new overland routes stretching all the way to California.


U.S. mail steamship Adriatic, circa 1850s.

In 1813, six years after Robert Fulton launched the first viable commercial steamboat line in New York, Congress authorized the postmaster general to contract with steamboat companies to transport the mail. By the late 1820s, steamboats were ferrying mail up and down the East Coast and along the Mississippi River. Beginning in December 1848, U.S. Mail traveled by steamship to California via the Isthmus of Panama, a journey that took roughly three weeks.

Pony Express

In 1860, the Pony Express …read more


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How United Flight 93 Passengers Fought Back on 9/11

September 8, 2020 in History

By Adam Janos

The cockpit voice recorder captured the sound of passengers attempting to break through the door: yelling, thumping and crashing dishes.

The coordinated terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 unfolded at nightmarish speed. At 8:46 a.m., the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Sixteen minutes later, a second jet hit the South Tower. At 9:37, an airliner hit the Pentagon. Within hours, thousands had died, including hundreds of first responders who’d rushed to the scenes to help.

But after the events quieted and the scope of the damage came into relief, it became clear that there was at least one element of the al-Qaeda terrorist plot where the damage had been mitigated—with the fatal crash of United Airlines Flight 93.

Like the three other planes hijacked on September 11, Flight 93 was overtaken by al-Qaeda operatives intent on crashing it into a center of American power—in Flight 93’s case, likely the White House or the U.S. Capitol. But instead of hitting its intended target, the United jet went down in a field in rural Pennsylvania. While all 44 people aboard the plane were killed, countless people who might’ve perished in Washington were spared because of a passenger revolt—a heroic struggle undertaken with whatever low-tech weapons they and the cabin crew members could muster.

Brendan Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us, a book about domestic airline hijackings in the 1960s and 1970s, says that in the hundreds of cases he studied for his book, he never came across anything like Flight 93’s passenger revolt.

MORE: September 11: Photos of the Worst Terrorist Attack on U.S. Soil

“The attitude of passengers tended to be that airlines would give the hijackers what they wanted, and so there was relatively little threat to the passengers,” Koerner says. “There aren’t really that many instances of passengers getting involved.”

HISTORY looks back at a timeline of how the passengers aboard Flight 93 prevented their plane from striking in Washington.

7:39–7:48 a.m.: The terrorists board, likely one man short

The suspected hijackers of United Airlines flight 93: (L-R, top to bottom) Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Ibrahim A. al-Haznawi, Ziad Samir al-Jarrah, and Saeed Alghamdi.

On the morning of September 11, four terrorists boarded United Airlines Flight 93 at Newark International Airport: Ziad Jarrah, a trained pilot; and three others, who were trained in unarmed combat and would help storm the cockpit and control the …read more