1790 Benjamin Franklin dies On April 17, 1790, American statesman, printer, scientist, and writer Benjamin Franklin dies in Philadelphia at age 84. Born in Boston in 1706, Franklin became at 12 years old an apprentice to his half brother James, a printer and publisher. He learned the printing trade and in 1723 went to Philadelphia to work after a dispute with his brother. After a sojourn in London, he started a printing and publishing press with a friend in 1728. In 1729, the company won a contract to publish Pennsylvania’s paper currency and also began publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette, which was regarded as one of the better colonial newspapers. From 1732 to 1757, he wrote and published Poor Richard’s Almanack, an instructive and humorous periodical in which Franklin coined such practical American proverbs as “God helps those who help themselves” and “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” As his own wealth and prestige grew, Franklin took on greater civic responsibilities in Philadelphia and helped establish the city’s first circulating library, police force, volunteer fire company, and an academy that became the University of Pennsylvania. From 1737 to 1753, he was postmaster of Philadelphia and during this time also served as a clerk of the Pennsylvania legislature. In 1753, he became deputy postmaster general, in charge of mail in all the northern colonies. Deeply interested in science and technology, he invented the Franklin stove, which is still manufactured today, and bifocal eyeglasses, among other practical inventions. In 1748, he turned his printing business over to his partner so he would have more time for his experiments. The phenomenon of electricity fascinated him, and in a dramatic experiment he flew a kite in a thunderstorm to prove that lightning is an electrical discharge. He later invented the lightning rod. Many terms used in discussing electricity, including positive, negative, battery, and conductor, were coined by Franklin in his scientific papers. He was the first American scientist to be highly regarded in European scientific circles. Franklin was active in colonial affairs and in 1754 proposed the union of the colonies, which was rejected by Britain. In 1757, he went to London to argue for the right to tax the massive estates of the Penn family in Pennsylvania, and in 1764 went again to ask for a new charter for Pennsylvania. He was in England when Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. His initial failure to actively oppose the controversial act drew wide criticism in the colonies, but he soon redeemed himself by stoutly defending American rights before the House of Commons. With tensions between the American colonies and Britain rising, he stayed on in London and served as agent for several colonies. In 1775, he returned to America as the American Revolution approached and was a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1776, he helped draft the Declaration of Independence and in July signed the final document. Ironically, Franklin’s illegitimate son, William Franklin, whom Franklin and his wife had raised, had at the same time emerged as a leader of the Loyalists. In 1776, Congress sent Benjamin Franklin, one of the embattled United States’ most prominent statesmen, to France as a diplomat. Warmly embraced, he succeeded in 1778 in securing two treaties that provided the Americans with significant military and economic aid. In 1781, with French help, the British were defeated. With John Jay and John Adams, Franklin then negotiated the Treaty of Paris with Britain, which was signed in 1783. In 1785, Franklin returned to the United States. In his last great public service, he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and worked hard for the document’s ratification. After his death in 1790, Philadelphia gave him the largest funeral the city had ever seen. 1961 The Bay of Pigs invasion begins The Bay of Pigs invasion begins when a CIA-financed and -trained group of Cuban refugees lands in Cuba and attempts to topple the communist government of Fidel Castro. The attack was an utter failure. Fidel Castro had been a concern to U.S. policymakers since he seized power in Cuba with a revolution in January 1959. Castro’s attacks on U.S. companies and interests in Cuba, his inflammatory anti-American rhetoric, and Cuba’s movement toward a closer relationship with the Soviet Union led U.S. officials to conclude that the Cuban leader was a threat to U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere. In March 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to train and arm a force of Cuban exiles for an armed attack on Cuba. John F. Kennedy inherited this program when he became president in 1961. Though many of his military advisors indicated that an amphibious assault on Cuba by a group of lightly armed exiles had little chance for success, Kennedy gave the go-ahead for the attack. On April 17, 1961, around 1,200 exiles, armed with American weapons and using American landing craft, waded ashore at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. The hope was that the exile force would serve as a rallying point for the Cuban citizenry, who would rise up and overthrow Castro’s government. The plan immediately fell apart–the landing force met with unexpectedly rapid counterattacks from Castro’s military, the tiny Cuban air force sank most of the exiles’ supply ships, the United States refrained from providing necessary air support, and the expected uprising never happened. Over 100 of the attackers were killed, and more than 1,100 were captured. The failure at the Bay of Pigs cost the United States dearly. Castro used the attack by the “Yankee imperialists” to solidify his power in Cuba and he requested additional Soviet military aid. Eventually that aid included missiles, and the construction of missile bases in Cuba sparked the Cuban Missile Crisisof October 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union nearly came to blows over the issue. Further, throughout much of Latin America, the United States was pilloried for its use of armed force in trying to unseat Castro, a man who was considered a hero to many for his stance against U.S. interference and imperialism. Kennedy tried to redeem himself by publicly accepting blame for the attack and its subsequent failure, but the botched mission left the young president looking vulnerable and indecisive. 1936 A single horsehair uncovers a murderer After a week of tracking down every conceivable lead, police finally find the evidence they need in order to break the case of Nancy Titterton’s rape-murder in New York City. Titterton, a novelist and the wife of NBC executive Lewis Titterton, was raped and strangled in her upscale home on Beekman Place on the morning of April 10, 1936. The only clues left behind were a foot-long piece of cord that had been used to tie Titterton’s hands and a single horsehair found on her bedspread. These small traces of evidence proved to be enough to find the killer. The detective in charge of the investigation had ordered his team to trace the source of the cord. After a full week of combing every rope and twine manufacturer in the Northeast, the cord was finally found to have come from Hanover Cordage Company in York, Pennsylvania. Company records showed that some of the distinctive cord had been sold to Theodore Kruger’s upholstery shop in New York City. Since the investigation of the horsehair had already led police to suspect John Fiorenza, an assistant at Kruger’s shop, this new evidence only solidified their suspicion. Fiorenza and Kruger were the first to discover Titterton’s body, when they arrived to return a repaired couch (which had been stuffed with horsehair that matched the one found at the crime scene) on the afternoon of April 10. However, they both denied entering the bedroom that day. When investigators learned that Fiorenza had been at the Titterton house on April 9 and had been late for work the morning of the murder, they looked deeper into his background. Fiorenza had four prior arrests for theft and had been diagnosed as delusional by a prison psychiatrist. Detectives first gained Fiorenza’s trust by pretending to need his help in solving the crime and then sprang the cord evidence on him. Caught by surprise, Fiorenza confessed to the brutal crime but claimed that he was temporarily insane. This defense didn’t hold up too well at trial, and Fiorenza was executed on January 22, 1937.