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Historical Happenings in April 2024



As the chilly grip of winter loosens, April arrives like a breath of fresh air, bringing with it sunshine, blooming flowers, and chirping birds. So, put away those winter coats and join us as we leap into spring, embracing the warm weather and outdoor activities we love! Check out some monumental events that occurred in April over the years with this month’s Historical Happenings!


History at a Glance:


  • April 30, 1789: George Washington was inaugurated as the first U.S. president

  • April 15, 1912: The sinking of the Titanic

  • April 9, 1959: NASA announced America’s first astronauts


April 30, 1789: George Washington Inauguration as First U.S. President


Believe it or not, George Washington did not exactly want to be the leader of the United States at first. He was set to retire and live on a farm with his wife, Martha, in his hometown of Mount Vernon, Virginia. However, after he had served and led the Continental Army as Commander-in-Chief, many people, especially soldiers who served in the American Revolution beside him, wanted Washington to continue his leadership career. Washington is the first and only president in United States history to win an election with a unanimous vote.[1] 


The inauguration ceremony was initially planned to occur on the first Wednesday of March 1789, but as the new year came, so did some intense, harsh weather that postponed the ceremony. Members of the First Federal Congress had to push back their departure dates so that all could get together to count ballots, and there were not enough members in attendance to proceed with the inauguration. By April 6, 1789, there were finally enough members who had arrived to complete the tally of ballots, and George Washington was

notified to start his journey from Virginia to New York City for his inauguration ceremony.[2] 


On April 30, 1789, George Washington made history as he was sworn in as the United States' first President. The inauguration took place on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, the first established capital of the United States. Washington arrived at Federal Hall in a procession accompanied by a military band and followed by thousands of spectators. Standing on the balcony, Washington took the oath of office administered by Chancellor Robert Livingston, solemnly swearing to faithfully execute the duties of

the presidency, as every president since then

has been required to do.


After he repeated the oath, Livingstone raised the Bible, and Washington bent over and kissed it. Livingston turned to the crowd and said, "Long live George Washington, President of the United States." The flag was raised, artillery fired, and all the church bells rang throughout the town. They then went inside the Senate Chamber, where Washington delivered his inaugural address to both Houses of Congress, emphasizing the importance of unity and the need for a robust federal government. He spoke of the responsibilities that came with his position and the challenges that lay ahead for the young nation.[3] 


Washington's inauguration set the example for future presidents, establishing the tradition of taking the oath of office on January 20 every four years. This first presidential inauguration symbolized the transition from colonial rule to democratic governance. The people believed that Washington's leadership and vision would guide the nation through its early years, shaping history and setting the tone for future generations of leaders.


Teacher Resources:


  • Read the first-ever inaugural speech given by George Washington here.

  • Go through the journey, step by step, of Washington’s travel to New York for the presidential inauguration with this interactive, detailed timeline from MountVernon.org.

  • Solve the mystery of what’s missing in George Washington’s portrait with this free puzzle activity!


April 15, 1912: The sinking of the Titanic


The Titanic was a British passenger liner that set sail on its voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City on April 10, 1912. It was considered one of the most luxurious and advanced ships of its time, with state-of-the-art amenities for its wealthy passengers. The time period that the Titanic was built was a time when luxury travel with ship lines was a very profitable business. White Star Line, a well-known British ship line, was ready to add more to this market after Cunard, a competing ship line, built the Lusitania and the Mauretania.


White Star Line was ready to bring three new ships into the game: the Olympic, the Britannic, and the Titanic. With Thomas Andrews as the main designer of the ships, the Olympic and the Titanic were being built at the same time and right next to each other (the Olympic building process started a few months prior to the Titanic construction). With this luxurious design being planned out, there were three different classes for passengers to choose from when purchasing a ticket on the Titanic: First class was the most luxurious and expensive, whereas third class, not as nice as first or second, was still comfortable and modest for the long journey. Before it took sail, many people referenced the Titanic as being “unsinkable” because of their described safety features. There were 16 compartments that had doors installed that could be closed off from the bridge so that water could be contained in the event the main body of the ship was breached.[4]



Unfortunately, the supposed safety features that had brought the Titanic fame and glory did not live up to those standards. On the night of April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg near Newfoundland, Canada, in the North Atlantic Ocean after there were several ice warnings signaled to the Titanic crew.[5]


Despite being designed to withstand a collision or accident, water began to fill the Titanic after it hit the iceberg, and within hours, the ship began to sink. Panic and chaos took over as passengers and crew scrambled to find lifeboats and evacuate the sinking ship. Unfortunately, there were not enough lifeboats for all the passengers on board to occupy, and many were left stranded on the sinking ship. Crew members aboard the ship sent emergency help signals to any ship that would be

nearby. The closest ship to the Titanic at the time, the Carpathia, was about 58 miles away, and it would take about three hours to get to them to be able to assist.[6] It took about two hours and 40 minutes for the Titanic to be fully submerged underwater.[7]


As the Titanic was sinking down further and further into the water, the crew worked tirelessly to lower the lifeboats and rescue as many passengers as possible before the ship fully sank. On the day the Titanic left the port in Southampton, there was a scheduled lifeboat drill that ended up being canceled. The crew members did not practice evacuation strategies that day, and they were not informed of how much weight the davits lowering the lifeboats could’ve held. Therefore, the first safety boat to evacuate the Titanic, Lifeboat 7, took off with only 27 passengers onboard when it could fit 67 people. In the end, over 1,500 people lost their lives in the tragic sinking of the Titanic, making it one of the deadliest commercial naval disasters in modern history.[8]


There were several ships sent out to sea to recover the bodies left in the water after the Titanic sinking crisis. The first ship that went out, the SS Mackay-Bennett, was carrying 100 coffins and embalming fluid onboard. They found several hundred corpses. There were many that were buried at sea due to being unidentified, and the rest were taken to be buried in Nova Scotia. Each search party ship that sailed out came back with fewer and fewer bodies each time until the last ship, the SS Algerine, only found one body.[9] 



The investigation of the crash and sinking began just four days later, and many interviews were arranged and witnesses questioned. Senator William Alden Smith led the U.S. case, which began on April 19 and ended on May 25, 1912. It is perceived that there was a chance the crisis could’ve been avoided if the ship had been moving slower and the crew had more of an understanding of the protection and emergency procedures to help the passengers to safety.[10] 


With that being said, there were new laws and naval guidelines established that had to be followed while out at sea for safety reasons. The Titanic’s fatal crisis led to new regulations governing sea safety and the number of lifeboats required on passenger liners. In 1914, the first Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention treaty was established in response to the sinking, and an international ice patrol was established to ensure that if there were any ships out in the North Atlantic Ocean, they could be warned of any approaching potential danger. Every ship was required to provide enough lifeboats for everyone on board and maintain a 24-hour radio watch.[11]


It took 73 years for someone to find the sunken ship at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. Robert Ballard, an American marine geologist and oceanographer, accidentally came across the Titanic while using deep-diving submersibles.[12] It took particular, heavy-duty equipment to be able to properly locate and explore the ship, and its location on the ocean floor was never exactly known until it was actually found. Many people never truly forgot about the Titanic disaster, so when it was found in 1985, people were astonished.


The sinking of the Titanic has captivated the public’s attention for decades with handfuls of books, movies, and documentaries about the disaster. The legacy of the Titanic lives on as a reminder of the sometimes dangerous aspects of the sea and the importance of taking precautions to ensure the safety of passengers and crew aboard ships.[13]


Teacher Resources:



April 9, 1959: NASA Announces America’s First Astronauts


Project Mercury was a significant human spaceflight program initiated by NASA. It ran from 1958 until 1963 and was a part of the well-known Space Race against the Soviet Union. On October 4, 1957, the USSR scored the first victory of the Space Race when it successfully launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into Earth’s orbit.[14] That was when the U.S. realized it needed they catch up. For Project Mercury, NASA had to select several brave and courageous individuals to be assigned to the program. This mission aimed to put a human in orbit around the Earth and gather data on the effects of space travel on the human body with the result of bringing them back safely. On April 9, 1959, NASA announced to the world the first American astronauts who were going to take part in the first voyage to space. These astronauts, also known as the Mercury 7, were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra Jr., Alan Shepard Jr., and Donald Slayton. These men were all military pilots and volunteer test subjects who were chosen from many other running candidates.[15] 


When the candidate search began within NASA in January of 1959, they screened about 508 military test pilots and later selected 110 of them to be official candidates for Project Mercury. There were eliminations occurring based on different skill sets, and some individuals even dropped out of the race. The final 32 candidates were asked to travel to the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to be put through exhaustive medical and psychological examinations. After several rounds of eliminations based on medical, physical, and psychological attributions, they came down to their final choices of who would be joining the Mercury 7. ​​NASA was originally planning on selecting just six men, but they settled on seven because of how impressive the final candidates were.[16] 


They wanted to begin orbital flights two years later, in 1961. They underwent rigorous training to prepare for their missions, which included simulations, parabolic flights, and centrifuge testing to imitate the conditions of space travel. The Mercury 7 astronauts made a series of historic manned spaceflights between 1961 and 1963, six human-tended flights and eight automated flights, with Alan Shepard Jr. becoming the first American in space in 1961 and John Glenn becoming the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.[17] 


Their missions tested the limits of human endurance and laid the groundwork for the future of American space exploration, paving the way for the later Apollo program and the eventual moon landing in 1969. The knowledge and experience gained from Project Mercury were crucial in developing the technologies and techniques needed to send astronauts to the moon in the Apollo missions. The Mercury 7 astronauts were instrumental in the development of the Apollo program, with many of them serving as advisors and consultants to the younger astronauts who would ultimately walk on the moon.[18] 


Teacher Resources:


  • Try some arts and crafts with this activity from the Kennedy Space Center: Geodesic Domes are used to build several different types of structures, so learn to create your own Geodesic Dome with this free activity! (Scroll down a little, and select the link titled “Build a Geodesic Sphere”).

  • Have your kids/students build their own telescopes to look at the night stars with this National Geographic Kids free activity!

  • Get your markers and crayons out for these fun and factual NASA coloring pages for you to download, print, and hand out for an exciting coloring activity!


For more historical tidbits, lesson plan ideas, and free activities, follow us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram. Also, check out our other blogs for even more resources!


 

[1] National Park Service. “A Man of Many Firsts: George Washington’s First Inauguration (U.S. National Park Service).” National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 15 Jan. 2021, www.nps.gov/articles/000/george-washington-inauguration.htm. Accessed 05 Apr. 2024.

[2] National Archives. “George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789.” National Archives and Records Administration, 10 Oct. 2020, www.archives.gov/legislative/features/gw-inauguration. Accessed 08 Apr. 2024.

[3] Boller, Paul F. “Presidential Inaugurations and the United States Capitol / U.S. Capitol History: USCHS.” United States Capitol Historical Society, Oct. 2009, capitolhistory.org/explore/historical-articles/presidential-inaugurations-united-states-capitol/?gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAjwh4-wBhB3EiwAeJsppAQoWseqb14dlOmOwSepIcxKi13r_xUS35iGojNlnDFAq3WS0PMJVRoCCegQAvD_BwE. Accessed 09 Apr. 2024.

[4] Crooks, Mary. “Apr 15, 1912 CE: Titanic Sinks.” Titanic Sinks, 19 Oct. 2023, education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/titanic-sinks/. Accessed 09 Apr. 2024.

[5] Tikkanen, Amy. "Titanic". Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Mar. 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Titanic. Accessed 10 April 2024.

[6] Tikkanen, Amy. "Titanic". Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Mar. 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Titanic. Accessed 10 April 2024.

[7] Titanic Facts. “Titanic Sinking • Titanic Facts.” Titanic Facts - The Life and the Loss of the RMS Titanic in Numbers, 13 July 2020, titanicfacts.net/titanic-sinking/#:~:text=160%20minutes%20%E2%80%93%20the%20time%20it,2%20hours%20and%2040%20minutes). Accessed 10 Apr. 2024.

[8] Tikkanen, Amy. "Titanic". Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Mar. 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Titanic. Accessed 10 April 2024.

[9] Molly Brown House Museum. “Aftermath of the Sinking of the Titanic.” Molly Brown House Museum, 12 June 2012, mollybrown.org/aftermath-of-the-sinking-of-the-titanic/. Accessed 10 Apr. 2024.

[10] Slattery Williams, Emma. “Heartbreak & Horror: What Happened after the Sinking of Titanic?” HistoryExtra, 15 Apr. 2022, www.historyextra.com/period/edwardian/what-happened-after-sinking-titanic/. Accessed 10 Apr. 2024.

[11] International Ice Patrol. “International Ice Patrol - About Us.” United States Coast Guard Navigation Center, www.navcen.uscg.gov/international-ice-patrol-about-us#:~:text=It%20took%20one%20of%20the,established%20the%20international%20ice%20patrol. Accessed 10 Apr. 2024.

[12] Kennedy, Lesley. “Titanic by the Numbers: From Construction to Disaster to Discovery.” History.Com, A&E Television Networks, 30 Oct. 2020, www.history.com/news/titanic-facts-construction-passengers-sinking-discovery. Accessed 10 Apr. 2024.

[13] Tikkanen, Amy. "Titanic". Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Mar. 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Titanic. Accessed 9 April 2024.

[14] History.com Editors. “NASA Introduces America’s First Astronauts | April 9, 1959.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, 9 Feb. 2010, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-astronauts-introduced. Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

[15] NASA. “Project Mercury Overview - Astronaut Selection.” NASA, 30 Nov. 2006, www.nasa.gov/history/project-mercury-overview-astronaut-selection/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

[16] History.com Editors. “NASA Introduces America’s First Astronauts | April 9, 1959.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, 9 Feb. 2010, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-astronauts-introduced. Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

[17] Uri, John. “60 Years Ago: NASA Introduces Mercury 7 Astronauts.” NASA, 9 Apr. 2019, www.nasa.gov/history/60-years-ago-nasa-introduces-mercury-7-astronauts/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

[18] Garber, Steve. “40th Anniversary of the Selection of the Mercury 7 Astronauts.” 40th Anniversary of the NASA Mercury 7, NASA, 2 Nov. 2009, www.nasa.gov/history/40thmerc7/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

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