Good Old Days Newsletter
|In the Good Old Days||Antiques Corner||This Week in History|
Chuck Yeager, Walt Disney & More
... On Oct. 14, 1947: U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound, breaking the sound barrier.
Born Feb. 13, 1923 in West Virginia, Yeager began his military career in World War II as a private in the United States Army Air Forces. During the war, he flew in 64 missions over Europe, shot down 13 German planes and was himself shot down over France, though he managed to escape capture.
After World War II, he was one of the volunteers selected to test-fly the experimental X-1 rocket plane, which was built by the Bell Aircraft Co. for the purpose of exploring the possibility of supersonic flight. For years, it was thought that breaking the sound barrier was impossible, with many theorizing that the plane would break apart if it came close to doing so.
When flight time came, Yeager made history by flying the X-1 at Mach 1.07 at an altitude of 45,000 feet. Yeager was awarded the MacKay and Collier Trophies in 1948 for the history-making flight, and the X-1 he flew was later put on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum. Today, he is a retired brigadier general. In 2012, on the 65th anniversary of his flight, he broke the sound barrier again at Nellis Air Force Base in a McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle at the age of 89.
... On Oct. 16, 1946: Ten Nazi leaders were hanged as war criminals after the historic Nuremberg Trials.
Held between Nov. 20, 1945 and Oct. 1, 1946, the Nuremberg Trials were run by the Allied forces of World War II in response to the heinous crimes committed by high-ranking Nazi officials. The tribunal tried 24 of the most important political and military leaders of the Third Reich. Just before the trials began, Robert Ley -- who was the head of the German Labour Front -- committed suicide; Martin Bormann, often regarded as second only to Hitler, was tried was tried in absentia due to his failing health.
The countries represented by prosecutors and judges were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France and the United States. The defense counsel consisted of almost primarily German lawyers. Of the 24 defendants, 20 were found guilty of various crimes and were either hanged or imprisoned.
... On Oct. 16, 1923: The Disney Co. was founded by Walt Disney and his older brother, Roy Disney.
Walt and his brother came from humble beginnings, born in Chicago to Elias and Flora Disney around the turn of the century. Walt developed an early love of drawing and trains. In 1911, Walt and his family moved to Kansas City, Mo., where he met Walter Pfeiffer, who introduced him to the world of vaudeville and motion pictures. When Walt's family moved back to Chicago, Walt began taking night courses at the Chicago Art Institute. He became the cartoonist for the school newspaper, drawing patriotic cartoons that focused on World War I.
Hoping to find artistic work, Walt moved back to Kansas City in 1919 to pursue his career. While working for the Kansas City Film Ad Co., Walt became interested in animation. He decided to open his own animation business, recruiting fellow co-worker Fred Harman as his first employee. They secured a deal with the local theater owner, Frank L. Newman, to screen their cartoons, called Laugh-O-Grams, which became widely popular in the Kansas City area. Walt and Newman opened their own studio, but the profits weren't enough, and they went bankrupt. It was at this time Walt decided to set up a studio in Hollywood.
Walt and his brother, both aspiring animators and entrepreneurs, pooled their money and set up a cartoon studio in Hollywood to find a distributor for Walt's new Alice Comedies. He wrote to a New York distributor, Margaret Winkler, who told him she was interested in a doing a live-action/animated short based on Alice's Wonderland. Thus, The Disney Brothers Studio was born.
After many failures with characters like Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, to whom he lost the rights, Walt decided to create Mickey Mouse, his most iconic character, who still remains part of the American culture today. Mickey's first appearance was in Plane Crazy; then he was featured in Steamboat Willie and was a giant success. Walt went on to create characters including Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto. In 1937, Walt's first full-length motion picture, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was released and ushered in what has become known as the golden age of animation.
... On Oct. 17, 1938: Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel, iconic American daredevil and entertainer, was born.
Born in Butte, Mont., and raised by his grandparents, Knievel was first inspired by Joie Chitwood, an auto daredevil, and he began making small jumps using a pedal bike before moving on to motorcycles. Knievel earned his stage name after spending some time in jail with a man named Knofel; the jailer referred to the pair as "Awful Knofel and Evil Knievel." Knievel took up the name, but changed the spelling to "Evel."
After spending many years jumping from job to job, Knievel entered the entertainment business in 1966 by setting up his own touring show, initially using a variety of performers and later turning it into a solo show with his motorcycle jumps as the piece de resistance. He launched into the national spotlight after he convinced the owners of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas to let him jump their fountains on New Year's Eve in 1967. Knievel hired actor/director John Derek to film the stunt. The landing was a disaster and Knievel was in a coma for 29 days with many broken bones, but the film was shown on national TV and he became more famous than ever.
After he recovered, he continued to make high-profile jumps while trying to convince officials to let him jump the Grand Canyon. In 1968, Knievel crashed again while attempting to jump 15 Ford Mustangs, breaking his leg and foot. By the time late 1968 rolled around, he was making about $25,000 per performance.
By 1971, Knievel finally realized he'd never be allowed to jump the Grand Canyon, so he started looking for other stunts that would keep his fans' interest. While flying back from Butte from a performance tour, he spotted Snake River Canyon and decided that would be his next big attempt. To keep interest before the Snake River jump, he set a record by jumping 19 cars in Ontario, Calif. He crashed while attempting to jump 13 Pepsi delivery trucks, breaking numerous bones. Early in 1972, he broke his back and suffered a concussion after a bad landing.
When the Snake River Canyon jump finally rolled around on Sept. 8, 1974, the wind and drag resistance kept him from completing the jump. Knievel had to use his parachute, and he survived with only minor injuries.
Knievel's fame rose to the international stage -- dolls and action figures were modeled after him, and he even had a roller coaster at Six Flags St. Louis named after him. Though he announced his retirement a few times, he finally gave up stunts in 1977 and only made speaking appearances after that. His life story was told in the documentary Absolute Evel: The Evel Knievel Story. Knievel died on Nov. 30, 2007. His son, Robbie Knievel, is now performing stunts like his father and has vowed to complete the Snake River Canyon jump.