1989 Exxon Valdez runs aground in Alaska On this day in 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hits a reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, resulting in an enormous oil spill. Though there were no human victims of the crash, hundreds of miles of pristine coastline became coated with oil and thousands of sea birds, mammals and fish perished in the disaster. The Valdez was delivered to Exxon in 1986 and named after the Alaskan port terminal where oil was sent out to the main 48 states. It was capable of carrying 200,000 tons of crude oil and was usually manned by a 20-person crew. On the night of March 23, the ship left port in Valdez at about 9 p.m. Captain Joseph Hazelwood was in charge, but handed over the piloting of the ship to Third Mate Greg Cousins shortly into the journey. Just after midnight, there was a miscommunication on a change of course as the Valdezmaneuvered its way through a narrow shipping lane between Bligh Reef and Busby Island in Prince William Sound. The Valdez ran aground on the reef, puncturing the ship’s hull and sending oil spilling into the sound. Unfortunately, the response to the spill was not ideal. There was a limited attempt to use dispersants by helicopter, but there was only a small supply of them available near the site. Also, some reports suggested that dispersants, chemicals applied to the oil to push it below the surface (where it causes the most damage), were ineffective. Booms and skimmers, equipment that prevents the spread of oil in water and manually removes oil from the water, were not available for use until a full day after the spill. Unfortunately, even after the booms and skimmers were finally brought into service, they often broke down and were thus also not completely effective. Overall, the Valdez spilled close to 30 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound over several days. Beaches in the Knight Island chain were covered in oil. The primary victims of the oil were sea birds. Some estimate that as many as 250,000 of the birds were killed, as well as several thousand sea otters and hundreds of seals and bald eagles. Salmon and herring egg losses were also extensive. In total, about 800 miles of coastline were damaged by the oil. The Valdez accident led to a long series of lawsuits and legislative changes. Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which included a clause banning the Valdez from Alaska. A jury in Anchorage, Alaska, awarded millions of dollars in damages against Exxon to the affected Alaskan communities as well as a $5 billion punitive-damage award. On appeal, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the judge had to reduce the award. When the judge reduced it only slightly, Exxon appealed again and even many years after the incident, the ultimate resolution was still in doubt. Captain Hazelwood was accused of being intoxicated at the time of the accident, but such allegations were never fully proven. He was, however, convicted of negligence, fined and ordered to perform community service. After undergoing $30 million in repairs, the Valdez was renamed Sea River Mediterranean and returned to service, but is no longer used in Alaska. 1958 Elvis Presley is inducted into the U.S. Army When Elvis Presley turned 18 on January 8, 1953, he fulfilled his patriotic duty and legal obligation to register his name with the Selective Service System, thereby making himself eligible for the draft. The Korean War was still underway at the time, but as a student in good standing at L.C. Humes High School in Memphis, Elvis received a student deferment that kept him from facing conscription during that conflict’s final months. Elvis would receive another deferment four years later when his draft number finally came up, but this time for a very different reason: to complete the filming of his third Hollywood movie, King Creole. With that obligation fulfilled, Uncle Sam would wait no longer. On March 24, 1958, Elvis Presley was finally inducted, starting his day as the King of Rock and Roll, but ending it as a lowly buck private in the United States Army. Elvis’s manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, made sure to have a photographer on hand to document every moment of the big day, which began at Graceland before six that morning. The photos show Elvis in dark slacks, an opened-collar shirt and a tasteful plaid sports coat, preparing to depart the house with his similarly well-dressed mom and dad for the short ride to the induction center in downtown Memphis. The 23-year-old Elvis looked fantastic, of course, and his face betrayed no hint of nervousness or regret. The flat expression on Gladys Presley’s face, however, and the dark circles under her eyes, hint at the emotional impact of preparing to send her only child off on a two-year stint away from home—far longer than she and Elvis had ever before been separated. This would be the last time that Elvis would see his mother in good health, as she was diagnosed with hepatitis and hospitalized later that spring during Elvis’s first weekend leave. Elvis would be granted leave once again in August to attend to his mother on her death bed. Gladys Presley passed away on August 16, 1958, and four weeks later, Elvis shipped out to Germany. There would be other huge changes in Elvis’s life during his two years in the Army. He would meet a 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu while in Germany, and he would watch while a new crop of teen idols took over the limelight on the U.S. pop scene. 1834 John Wesley Powell born The great western explorer and conservationist John Wesley Powell is born near Palmyra, New York. The son of a Methodist minister, Powell imbibed his father’s theology as a boy. However, he was introduced to an alternative point of view when the elderly naturalist George Crookham taught him basic natural science. For much of his youth, though, Powell had little time to contemplate either God or nature. As the eldest son, he took on much of the backbreaking work necessary to support his seven brothers and sisters on newly cleared farms, first in Wisconsin and then Illinois. When he was 16, Powell struck out on his own. In 1852, he began teaching elementary school, which gave him time to improve his own education. During the next seven years, Powell took courses in natural science at Illinois, Wheaton, and Oberlin Colleges. He became a local expert on mollusks, attracting the approval of the Illinois Natural History Society. By the time the Civil War broke out, Illinois natural scientists knew him well. An ardent abolitionist, Powell enlisted in the Union Army shortly after the attack on Fort Sumter. With characteristic discipline and determination, he rose quickly in the ranks and eventually became a major in command of a battery of artillery. During the Battle of Shiloh, Powell was badly wounded and lost his right arm below the elbow. After a few months recuperating, Powell returned to the Union Army and served out the rest of the war with distinction. Returning to civilian life, Powell became a science teacher at several Illinois colleges. However, the quiet academic life did not suit him, and he began making a series of western expeditions to explore the geology of the Rocky Mountains. In 1869, Powell led 10 men in four small boats down the Green and Colorado Rivers, becoming the first Anglo to explore the cavernous depths of the Grand Canyon. Regarded as only a serious amateur by some professional scientists, Powell was determined to demonstrate his ability. In 1871, he won a government grant to map the Colorado Plateau. His subsequent geological descriptions of that region introduced an entire new branch of geology called geomorphology. By 1876, Powell’s theories of the role of stream flows in wearing down mountains and creating river valleys had established him as a nationally recognized geologist. Powell’s growing scientific prestige, as well as his uncanny ability to cultivate relationships with important politicians, made him a natural choice as the second director of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 1881. (The first director, Clarence King, had served less than two years). Under Powell’s guidance, the USGS became one of the most important federal scientific bureaus of the day. Powell’s insistence on putting truth before politics eventually earned him powerful enemies. Some western politicians, eager to exploit the natural resources of the West, objected to Powell’s insistence on understanding the natural science of the region before developing it. His enemies finally succeeded in pushing Powell out of the USGS in 1894. He continued his scientific work within the Bureau of American Ethnology, another important scientific agency Powell had nurtured. When he died in 1902, he was widely honored as a man of tremendous and varied talents. A soldier, teacher, explorer, geologist, and anthropologist, Powell played a pivotal role in the settlement and development of the American West.