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02 March

HistoryPodcast 51 – Today in History


1807 Congress abolishes the African slave trade
1925 First numbered highways
1949 Automatic streetlights are introduced
1969 Soviet Union and Chinese armed forces clash
1929 Congress passes the Jones Act
1944 Train passengers suffocate
1944 First televised Academy Awards

HP51 – Today in History


Matt’s Today in History

Lifespring! Podcast

Altlantic Slave Trade Timeline

US Highways Sign History

CNN Cold War Spotlight

Alcohol Prohibition Was A Failure

1944 Academy Awards


Prohibition : Thirteen Years That Changed America

The Cold War : A New History

75 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards

The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas

This episode I found a lot of cool events that occurred on this day in the past. If you like this episode you will most likely enjoy “Matt’s Today in History”, another history related podcast that does this sort of thing every episode. Visit the our website at for a link to Matt’s podcast.

On today’s agenda:

  • 1807 Congress abolishes the African slave trade
  • 1925 First numbered highways
  • 1949 Automatic streetlights are introduced
  • 1969 Soviet Union and Chinese armed forces clash
  • 1929 Congress passes the Jones Act
  • 1944 Train passengers suffocate
  • 1944 First televised Academy Awards

Stay tuned after these topics to hear a podcast promo from Lifespring! And away we go:

1807 Congress abolishes the African slave trade

The U.S. Congress passes an act to “prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States…from any foreign kingdom, place, or country.”

The first shipload of African captives to North America arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, in August 1619, but for most of the 17th century, European indentured servants were far more numerous in the North American British colonies than were African slaves. However, after 1680, the flow of indentured servants sharply declined, leading to an explosion in the African slave trade. By the middle of the 18th century, slavery could be found in all 13 colonies and was at the core of the Southern colonies’ agricultural economy. By the time of the American Revolution, the English importers alone had brought some three million captive Africans to the Americas.

After the war, as slave labor was not a crucial element of the Northern economy, most Northern states passed legislation to abolish slavery. However, in the South, the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 made cotton a major industry and sharply increased the need for slave labor. Tension arose between the North and the South as the slave or free status of new states was debated. In January 1807, with a self-sustaining population of over four million slaves in the South, some Southern congressmen joined with the North in voting to abolish the African slave trade, an act that became effective January 1, 1808. The widespread trade of slaves within the South was not prohibited, however, and children of slaves automatically became slave themselves, thus ensuring a self-sustaining slave population in the South.

Great Britain also banned the African slave trade in 1807, but the trade of African slaves to Brazil and Cuba continued until the 1860s. By 1865, some 12 million Africans had been shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas, and more than one million of these individuals had died from mistreatment during the voyage. In addition, an unknown number of Africans died in slave wars and forced marches directly resulting from the Western Hemisphere’s demand for African slaves.

1925 First numbered highways

The first nationwide highway numbering system was instituted by the joint board of state and federal highway officials appointed by the secretary of agriculture. In order to minimize confusion caused by the array of multiform state-appointed highway signs, the board created the shield-shaped highway number markers that have become a comforting sight to lost travelers in times since. Later, interstate highway numbering would be improved by colored signs and the odd-even demarcation that distinguishes between north-south and east-west travel respectively. As America got its kicks on Route 66, it did so under the aegis of the trusty shield.

1949 Automatic streetlights are introduced

The first automatic streetlight system in which the streetlights turned themselves on at dark was installed in New Milford, Connecticut, by the Connecticut Light and Power Company. Each streetlight contained an electronic device that contained a photoelectric cell capable of measuring outside light. By November of 1949, seven miles of New Milford’s roads were automatically lit at dusk by a total of 190 photoelectric streetlights. No longer would the proud men of New Milford be forced to don stilts in order to light their street lamps.

1969 Soviet Union and Chinese armed forces clash

In a dramatic confirmation of the growing rift between the two most powerful communist nations in the world, troops from the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China fire on each other at a border outpost on the Ussuri River in the eastern region of the USSR, north of Vladivostok. In the years following this incident, the United States used the Soviet-Chinese breach to its advantage in its Cold War diplomacy.

The cause of the firefight between Soviet and Chinese troops was a matter of dispute. The Soviets charged that Chinese soldiers crossed the border between the two nations and attacked a Soviet outpost, killing and wounding a number of Russian guards. The intruders were then driven back with heavy casualties. The Chinese report indicated that it was the Soviets who crossed the border and were forced back. Either way, it was the first time that either side openly admitted to a clash of arms along the border, though it had been rumored for years that similar run-ins were occurring. Ever since the early-1960s, relations between the two communist superpowers had deteriorated. China charged that the Soviet leadership was deviating from the pure path of Marxism, and by the mid-1960s, Chinese leaders were openly declaring that the United States and the Soviet Union were conspiring against the Chinese Revolution.

For the United States, the breakdown of relations between the Soviet Union and China was a diplomatic opportunity. By the early 1970s, the United States began to initiate diplomatic contacts with China. (Relations between the two nations had been severed in 1949 following the successful communist revolution in China.) In 1972, President Richard Nixon surprised the world by announcing that he would visit China. The strongest activity for this new approval toward communist China was the U.S. desire to use the new relationship as leverage in its diplomacy with the Soviet Union, making the Russians more accessible on issues such as arms control and their support of North Vietnam in the on-going Vietnam War. Pitting these two communist giants against one another became a mainstay of U.S. diplomacy in the later Cold War era.

1929 Congress passes the Jones Act

The Jones Act, the last gasp of the Prohibition, is passed by Congress. Since 1920 when the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect, the United States had banned the production, importation and sale of alcoholic beverages. But the laws were ineffective at actually stopping the consumption of alcohol. The Jones Act strengthened the federal penalties for bootlegging. Of course, within five years the country ended up rejecting Prohibition and repealing the Eighteenth Amendment.

Prohibition was never very popular across the nation and when the people slowly realized that it had other ramifications, it rapidly fell by the wayside. The chief problem with Prohibition is that it didn’t stop the public’s demand for alcohol. Although consumption did drop in raw numbers, it remained substantial. In order to fill this demand, an entire criminal infrastructure was created virtually overnight.

The enormous amounts of money that were available in illegal trafficking helped established organized crime. The nation’s major cities were dominated by criminal syndicates that could afford to bribe officials throughout the criminal justice system. This, in turn, produced a significant change in law enforcement. For the first time, the federal government became a major player in policing and prosecuting law breakers.

Many feel that Prohibition also caused a major breakdown in the social fabric because of its effect on the national psyche. With so many of the people brazenly ignoring the law, an atmosphere of cynicism and hypocrisy was established. When the Eighteenth Amendment was finally repealed, Prohibition was widely viewed as a total failure.

1944 Train passengers suffocate

On this day in 1944, a train stops in a tunnel near Salerno, Italy, and more than 500 people onboard suffocate and die. Occurring in the midst of World War II, the details of this incident were not revealed at the time and remain somewhat murky.

Train Number 8017 left Salerno heading for the rural area south of the city through the Apennine Mountains. Although it was a freight train that was not supposed to carry passengers, it was common at the time for both soldiers and civilians to hitch rides on any convenient train. Passing through the towns of Eboli, Persano and Romagnano, the 8017 had picked up approximately 650 passengers by the time it reached Balvano.

Balvano was a tiny town between two long tunnels in the Apennines. It was raining as the 8017 began to ascend the Galleria delle Amri tunnel pass just outside of Balvano. Almost immediately, it was forced to stop. There were conflicting reports as to why this happened: either the train was unable to pull the overloaded freight cars up the slope or the train stopped to wait for a train descending in the opposite direction. In any case, the train sat idling in the tunnel for more than 30 minutes. While this might not have posed a severe danger in some circumstances, the train’s locomotives were burning low-grade coal substitutes because high-grade coal was hard to obtain during the war and the coal substitutes produced an excess of odorless and toxic carbon monoxide.

Approximately 520 of the train’s passengers were asphyxiated by the carbon monoxide as they sat in the train. The government, in the midst of an intense war effort, kept a lid on the story–it was barely reported at the time although it was one of the worst, and most unusual, rail disasters of the century and came less than two months after a train wreck in the Torro tunnel in Spain killed 500 people.

1944 First televised Academy Awards

For the first time, the Academy Awards are presented as part of a televised variety show. Jack Benny served as master of ceremonies for the event, which was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. Due to lack of network interest, the show was only broadcast locally, on two Los Angeles TV stations. Winners included Best Film Going My Way, whose male lead, Bing Crosby, won Best Actor. Ingrid Bergman won Best Actress for her performance in Gaslight.

That is all for this weeks episode. Please be sure to visit the website at and while you are there please click on the google ads. This month we should be receiving our first acutal income for the podcast. Thank you all very much for visiting the site and clicking on those ads. This first check will go to pay off debt that the podcast has accumulated. Things like hosting costs and equipment. By July if everything goes well the podcast should be out of the red and entering the green! This means giveaways, sweepstakes and contest. I want to give books, hisotry channel DVDs and the like out to you guys since you have all been so cool.

One more thing next week I hope to do an episode on Tianenim Square. I know there are a lot of intense thoughts about this particular event in our worlds history, so I invite all of you to call in your comments on this history hotline at: (206) 339-7278. I may include your comments in next weeks show. Also, as I mention every show, there are the forums, and frapper map on the website. Please email me your historypodcast episodes and feedback to

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