This Week in History, Mar 9 - Mar 15
Mar 09, 1959
Barbie makes her debut. On this day in 1959, the first Barbie doll goes on display at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Eleven inches tall, with a waterfall of blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. The woman behind Barbie was Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945. After seeing her young daughter ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, Handler realized there was an important niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future.
Mar 10, 1959
Rebellion in Tibet. On this day in 1959, Tibetans band together in revolt, surrounding the summer palace of the Dalai Lama in defiance of Chinese occupation forces. China's occupation of Tibet began nearly a decade before, in October 1950, when troops from its People's Liberation Army (PLA) invaded the country, barely one year after the Communists gained full control of mainland China. The Tibetan government gave into Chinese pressure the following year, signing a treaty that ensured the power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the country's spiritual leader, over Tibet's domestic affairs. Resistance to the Chinese occupation built steadily over the next several years, including a revolt in several areas of eastern Tibet in 1956. By December 1958, rebellion was simmering in Lhasa, the capital, and the PLA command threatened to bomb the city if order was not maintained.
Mar 11, 1997
Mikhail Gorbachev chosen as new Soviet leader. Capping his rapid rise through the Communist Party hierarchy, Mikhail Gorbachev is selected as the new general secretary and leader of the Soviet Union, following the death of Konstantin Chernenko the day before. Gorbachev oversaw a radical transformation of Soviet society and foreign policy during the next six years. Gorbachev was born in 1931, the son of peasant farmers near Stavropol. As a young man he joined the usual Communist Party youth groups. In 1952, he traveled to Moscow to earn his degree in law. Upon his return to his native town of Stavropol, Gorbachev became extremely active in party politics and began a rapid rise through the Communist Party bureaucracy. Part of his success was due to his intelligence, drive, and ability to see and exploit opportunities. He was also aided by his ability to attach himself to important mentors, such as Yuri Andropov, the head of the dreaded KGB—Russia's secret police. With Andropov's support, Gorbachev was elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1971.
Mar 12, 1933
FDR gives first fireside chat. On this day in 1933, eight days after his inauguration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gives his first national radio address or "fireside chat," broadcast directly from the White House. Roosevelt began that first address simply: "I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking." He went on to explain his recent decision to close the nation's banks in order to stop a surge in mass withdrawals by panicked investors worried about possible bank failures. The banks would be reopening the next day, Roosevelt said, and he thanked the public for their "fortitude and good temper" during the "banking holiday."
Mar 13, 1942
U.S. Army launches K-9 Corps. On this day in 1942, the Quartermaster Corps (QMC) of the United States Army begins training dogs for the newly established War Dog Program, or "K-9 Corps." Well over a million dogs served on both sides during World War I, carrying messages along the complex network of trenches and providing some measure of psychological comfort to the soldiers. The most famous dog to emerge from the war was Rin Tin Tin, an abandoned puppy of German war dogs found in France in 1918 and taken to the United States, where he made his film debut in the 1922 silent film The Man from Hell's River. As the first bona fide animal movie star, Rin Tin Tin made the little-known German Shepherd breed famous across the country.
Mar 14, 1879
Albert Einstein born. On March 14, 1879, Albert Einstein is born, the son of a Jewish electrical engineer in Ulm, Germany. Einstein's theories of special and general relativity drastically altered man's view of the universe, and his work in particle and energy theory helped make possible quantum mechanics and, ultimately, the atomic bomb. After a childhood in Germany and Italy, Einstein studied physics and mathematics at the Federal Polytechnic Academy in Zurich, Switzerland. He became a Swiss citizen and in 1905 was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Zurich while working at the Swiss patent office in Bern. That year, which historians of Einstein's career call the annus mirabilis--the "miracle year"--he published five theoretical papers that were to have a profound effect on the development of modern physics.
Mar 15, 1965
Johnson calls for equal voting rights. On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of legislation guaranteeing voting rights for all. Using the phrase "we shall overcome," borrowed from African-American leaders struggling for equal rights, Johnson declared that "every American citizen must have an equal right to vote." Johnson reminded the nation that the Fifteenth Amendment, which was passed after the Civil War, gave all citizens the right to vote regardless of race or color. But states had defied the Constitution and erected barriers. Discrimination had taken the form of literacy, knowledge or character tests administered solely to African-Americans to keep them from registering to vote.