1899 Henry Ford leaves Edison to start automobile company On August 15, 1899, in Detroit, Michigan, Henry Ford resigns his position as chief engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company’s main plant in order to concentrate on automobile production. Henry Ford left his family’s farm in Dearborn, Michigan, at age 16 to work in the machine shops of Detroit. In 1888, he married Clara Bryant, and they had a son, Edsel, in 1893. That same year, Ford was made chief engineer at Edison. Charged with keeping the city’s electricity flowing, Ford was on call 24 hours a day, with no regular working hours, and when not working could tinker away at his real goal of building a gasoline-powered vehicle. He completed his first functioning gasoline engine at the end of 1893, his first horseless carriage, called the Quadricycle, by 1896. In the summer of 1898, Ford was awarded his first patent, in the name of his investor and Detroit’s mayor, William C. Maybury, for a carburetor he built the previous year. By the middle of the following summer Ford had produced his third car. A much more advanced model than his two previous efforts, it had a water tank and brakes, among other new features. Maybury’s support, combined with Ford’s bold ideas and charisma, helped assemble a group of investors who contributed some $150,000 to establish the Detroit Automobile Company in early August 1899. Ten days later, Ford left Edison, where he had worked for the previous eight years. He turned down a considerable salary offer of $1,900 per year and the title of general superintendent to become mechanical superintendent of the new auto company, with a salary of $150 per month. The Detroit Automobile Company was one of some 60 aspiring automakers in America at the time, and it struggled to keep up with the stiff competition provided by the likes of Packard of Ohio and Olds Motor Works of Lansing, Michigan. The company began to collapse in the middle of its second year of operation and ceased doing business in November 1900. Maybury and others retained their faith in Ford, however, and in late 1901 they backed him as chief engineer of the Henry Ford Company. This effort failed as well, and Ford put all of his hopes into a make-or-break third effort. The Ford Motor Company, founded in mid-June 1903, rolled out its first car–a Model A–that July and continued to grow steadily over the next several years. The release of the now-legendary Model T or “Tin Lizzie” in 1908 catapulted Ford Motor Company into the leading ranks of American automakers and turned its founder, a farm boy from Dearborn, into one of the world’s richest men. 1914 August 15 Panama Canal open to traffic The American-built waterway across the Isthmus of Panama, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, is inaugurated with the passage of the U.S. vessel Ancon, a cargo and passenger ship. The rush of settlers to California and Oregon in the mid 19th century was the initial impetus of the U.S. desire to build an artificial waterway across Central America. In 1855, the United States completed a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama (then part of Colombia), prompting various parties to propose canal-building plans. Ultimately, Colombia awarded rights to build the canal to Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French entrepreneur who had completed the Suez Canal in 1869. Construction on a sea-level canal began in 1881, but inadequate planning, disease among the workers, and financial problems drove Lesseps’ company into bankruptcy in 1889. Three years later, Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla, a former chief engineer of the canal works and a French citizen, acquired the assets of the defunct French company. By the turn of the century, sole possession of the isthmian canal became imperative to the United States, which had acquired an overseas empire at the end of the Spanish-American War and sought the ability to move warships and commerce quickly between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1902, the U.S. Congress authorized purchase of the French canal company (pending a treaty with Colombia), and allocated funding for the canal’s construction. In 1903, the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty was signed with Columbia, granting the U.S. use of the territory in exchange for financial compensation. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, but the Colombian Senate, fearing a loss of sovereignty, refused. In response, President Theodore Roosevelt gave tacit approval to a Panamanian independence movement, which was engineered in large part by Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla and his canal company. On November 3, 1903, a faction of Panamanians issued a declaration of independence from Colombia. The U.S.-administered railroad removed its trains from the northern terminus of Colón, thus stranding Colombian troops sent to crush the rebellion. Other Colombian forces were discouraged from marching on Panama by the arrival of U.S. warship Nashville. On November 6, the United States recognized the Republic of Panama, and on November 18 the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed with Panama, granting the U.S. exclusive and permanent possession of the Panama Canal Zone. In exchange, Panama received $10 million and an annuity of $250,000 beginning nine years later. The treaty was negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Hay and Bunau-Varilla, who had been given plenipotentiary powers to negotiate on behalf of Panama. Almost immediately, the treaty was condemned by many Panamanians as an infringement on their country’s new national sovereignty. In 1906, American engineers decided on the construction of a lock canal, and the next three years were spent developing construction facilities and eradicating tropical diseases in the area. In 1909, construction proper began. In one of the largest construction projects of all time, U.S. engineers moved nearly 240 million cubic yards of earth and spent close to $400 million in constructing the 40-mile-long canal (or 51 miles long, if the deepened seabed on both ends of the canal is taken into account). On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal was opened to traffic. Panama later pushed to revoke the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, and in 1977 U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos signed a treaty to turn over the canal to Panama by the end of the century. A peaceful transfer occurred at noon on December 31, 1999. Woodstock festival opens in Bethel, New York On August 15, 1969, the Woodstock music festival opens on a patch of farmland in White Lake, a hamlet in the upstate New York town of Bethel. Promoters John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfield and Michael Lang originally envisioned the festival as a way to raise funds to build a recording studio and rock-and-roll retreat near the town of Woodstock, New York. The longtime artists’ colony was already a home base for Bob Dylan and other musicians. Despite their relative inexperience, the young promoters managed to sign a roster of top acts, including the Jefferson Airplane, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival and many more. Plans for the festival were on the verge of foundering, however, after both Woodstock and the nearby town of Wallkill denied permission to hold the event. Dairy farmer Max Yasgur came to the rescue at the last minute, giving the promoters access to his 600 acres of land in Bethel, some 50 miles from Woodstock. Early estimates of attendance increased from 50,000 to around 200,000, but by the time the gates opened on Friday, August 15, more than 400,000 people were clamoring to get in. Those without tickets simply walked through gaps in the fences, and the organizers were eventually forced to make the event free of charge. Folk singer and guitarist Richie Havens kicked off the event with a long set, and Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie also performed on Friday night. Though Woodstock had left its promoters nearly bankrupt, their ownership of the film and recording rights more than compensated for the losses after the release of a hit documentary film in 1970. Later music festivals inspired by Woodstock’s success failed to live up to its standard, and the festival still stands for many as an example of America’s 1960s youth counterculture at its best.