1648 October 24 Thirty Years' War ends The Treaty of Westphalia is signed, ending the Thirty Years' War and radically shifting the balance of power in Europe. The Thirty Years' War, a series of wars fought by European nations for various reasons, ignited in 1618 over an attempt by the king of Bohemia (the future Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand II) to impose Catholicism throughout his domains. Protestant nobles rebelled, and by the 1630s most of continental Europe was at war. As a result of the Treaty of Westphalia, the Netherlands gained independence from Spain, Sweden gained control of the Baltic and France was acknowledged as the preeminent Western power. The power of the Holy Roman Emperor was broken and the German states were again able to determine the religion of their lands. The principle of state sovereignty emerged as a result of the Treaty of Westphalia and serves as the basis for the modern system of nation-states. 1861 Western Union completes the first transcontinental telegraph line On October 24, 1861, workers of the Western Union Telegraph Company link the eastern and western telegraph networks of the nation at Salt Lake City, Utah, completing a transcontinental line that for the first time allows instantaneous communication between Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Stephen J. Field, chief justice of California, sent the first transcontinental telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, predicting that the new communication link would help ensure the loyalty of the western states to the Union during the Civil War. The push to create a transcontinental telegraph line had begun only a little more than year before when Congress authorized a subsidy of $40,000 a year to any company building a telegraph line that would join the eastern and western networks. The Western Union Telegraph Company, as its name suggests, took up the challenge, and the company immediately began work on the critical link that would span the territory between the western edge of Missouri and Salt Lake City. The obstacles to building the line over the sparsely populated and isolated western plains and mountains were huge. Wire and glass insulators had to be shipped by sea to San Francisco and carried eastward by horse-drawn wagons over the Sierra Nevada. Supplying the thousands of telegraph poles needed was an equally daunting challenge in the largely treeless Plains country, and these too had to be shipped from the western mountains. Indians also proved a problem. In the summer of 1861, a party of Sioux warriors cut part of the line that had been completed and took a long section of wire for making bracelets. Later, however, some of the Sioux wearing the telegraph-wire bracelets became sick, and a Sioux medicine man convinced them that the great spirit of the “talking wire” had avenged its desecration. Thereafter, the Sioux left the line alone, and the Western Union was able to connect the East and West Coasts of the nation much earlier than anyone had expected and a full eight years before the transcontinental railroad would be completed. 1921 Unknown Soldier is selected On October 24, 1921, in the French town of Chalons-sur-Marne, an American officer selects the body of the first “Unknown Soldier” to be honored among the approximately 77,000 United States servicemen killed on the Western Front during World War I. According to the official records of the Army Graves Registration Service deposited in the U.S. National Archives in Washington, four bodies were transported to Chalons from the cemeteries of Aisne-Marne, Somme, Meuse-Argonne and Saint-Mihiel. All were great battlegrounds, and the latter two regions were the sites of two offensive operations in which American troops took a leading role in the decisive summer and fall of 1918. As the service records stated, the identity of the bodies was completely unknown: “The original records showing the internment of these bodies were searched and the four bodies selected represented the remains of soldiers of which there was absolutely no indication as to name, rank, organization or date of death.” The four bodies arrived at the Hotel de Ville in Chalons-sur-Marne on October 23, 1921. At 10 o’clock the next morning, French and American officials entered a hall where the four caskets were displayed, each draped with an American flag. Sergeant Edward Younger, the man given the task of making the selection, carried a spray of white roses with which to mark the chosen casket. According to the official account, Younger “entered the chamber in which the bodies of the four Unknown Soldiers lay, circled the caskets three times, then silently placed the flowers on the third casket from the left. He faced the body, stood at attention and saluted.” Bearing the inscription “An Unknown American who gave his life in the World War,” the chosen casket traveled to Paris and then to Le Havre, France, where it would board the cruiser Olympia for the voyage across the Atlantic. Once back in the United States, the Unknown Soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. 1931 George Washington Bridge is dedicated On October 24, 1931, eight months ahead of schedule, New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicates the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River. The 4,760-foot–long suspension bridge, the longest in the world at the time, connected Fort Lee, New Jersey with Washington Heights in New York City. “This will be a highly successful enterprise,” FDR told the assembled crowd at the ceremony. “The great prosperity of the Holland Tunnel and the financial success of other bridges recently opened in this region have proven that not even the hardest times can lessen the tremendous volume of trade and traffic in the greatest of port districts.” Workers built the six-lane George Washington Bridge in sections. They carried the pieces to the construction site by rail, then hauled them into the river by boat, then hoisted them into place by crane. Though the bridge was gigantic, engineer Othmar Amman had found a way to make it look light and airy: in place of vertical trusses, he used horizontal plate girders in the roadway to keep the bridge steady. Amman used such strong steel that these plate girders could be relatively thin and as a result, the bridge deck was only 12 feet deep. From a distance, it looked as flimsy as a magic carpet. Meanwhile, thanks to Amman’s sophisticated suspension system, that magic carpet seemed to be floating: The bridge hung from cables made of steel wires–107,000 miles and 28,100 tons of steel wires, to be exact—that were much more delicate-looking than anything anyone had ever seen. The bridge opened to traffic on October 25, 1931. One year later, it had carried 5 million cars from New York to New Jersey and back again. In 1946, engineers added two lanes to the bridge. In 1958, city officials decided to increase its capacity by 75 percent by adding a six-lane lower level. This deck (the New York Times called it “a masterpiece of traffic engineering,” while other, more waggish observers referred to it as the “Martha Washington”) opened in August 1962. Today, the George Washington Bridge is one of the world’s busiest bridges.