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Community History Archive: This Week in History: May 20th – May 26th

Get ready to embark on a fascinating journey through some significant events in history. Every week in history has a diverse range of content, but this week especially has a little something for everyone. Between devastating natural disasters, groundbreaking politics, early American cars, and international conflicts, this week in history has it all. Join me as we adventure into the unforgettable events that unfolded from May 20th through May 26th in different decades.

(2000s – Present) A Town Destroyed: Joplin EF5 Tornado, 2011

Just before 6:00 pm on the evening of May 22nd, 2011, one of the deadliest tornadoes in history passed through the midwestern town of Joplin, Missouri. The tornado was categorized as an EF5, the highest on the scale used to measure tornado strength. Wind Speeds reached over 200 MPH at their strongest, causing tremendous damage. Over 150 fatalities were recorded, with an additional 1,150 people visiting the hospital for injuries caused by the storm. In the Trenton Republican Times published in Trenton, Missouri on June 10th, 2011, they reported that many survivors had been treated at the hospital for an aggressive and rare fungal infection, one which is typically seen in survivors of natural disasters. Among the casualties were many hospital patients, as the tornado struck one of Joplin’s hospitals, causing them to lose power and their backup generators to fail.

The Red Cross estimated that around 25% of Joplin was destroyed completely, and much more was damaged to various extents. Many critical infrastructure elements were damaged, causing difficulties in the days following as the city tried to clean up. The damage cost an estimated 2.8 billion dollars (almost 4 billion dollars in 2024), though this number varies from report to report. The Joplin Tornado is ranked as the 7th deadliest in the history of the United States, and the 27th deadliest in the world. 

I pulled out a couple of different pieces covering this disaster. They ranged from the day immediately following the storm all the way to later that June. Many different aspects of the heartbreaking story were shared in the days that followed. One I was especially moved by was that of a couple attempting to find their belongings in a storage locker after their home had been destroyed, only to discover that the locker was destroyed as well and their belongings were lost forever. I found this story and many others in the Trenton Republican Times published in Trenton, Missouri on May 23rd, 2011. 

There were far more than just stories of devastation though. Through the Grundy County Community History Archives, I was able to follow the rebuilding process. There were reports week by week about the ways the town was coming together and recovering from the incredible damage the tornado caused, and it was inspiring to see the way they persevered through such a devastating storm. 

(1980s – 2000s) British Backlash: Margaret Thatcher Gives Controversial Speech, 1988

Traveling overseas to the UK, on this week in 1988 British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave an infamous address that changed opinions on her around the country. This speech has been nicknamed “Sermon on the Mound”, a play on the “Sermon on the Mount” found in the Christian Bible. The name for her May 21st speech stems from the religiosity of her message, which received heavy backlash from various parties. 

Thatcher is regarded as one of the most religious prime ministers in the history of Britain, and this speech reflects that incredibly clearly. There are a few different key themes of the speech, including an emphasis on the role that she believed the Christian religion specifically should have within the political atmosphere. She links her religious beliefs with her economic beliefs, communicating in a way many found off-putting.

 One particularly controversial statement was when she referenced the bible in saying that if a man does not work, he shall not eat. This stood out due to the high unemployment numbers in the country at that time, and did not sway a lot of citizens to support her. On May 29th, 1988, The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa published that her claims in this speech had enraged several churchmen, as well as politicians.

(1945 – 1980s) Cutting the Tension: Nixon Attends Summit in Moscow, 1972

During the 1970s, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were beyond strained. President Nixon’s May visit to Moscow in 1972 was a groundbreaking moment in the Cold War. Nixon arrived in Moscow on May 22nd and stayed until May 29th, taking part in the Moscow Summit. Traveling with Henry Kissinger, Nixon was the first US president to visit Moscow, and the second to visit the Soviet Union. Nixon received a large welcome, as there were reportedly 100,000 people there to welcome him according to page one of the Woonsocket Call and Evening Reporter, published in Rhode Island on May 22nd, 1972

Nixon met with General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union to discuss various agreements that they were to develop between the two nations. One of the most notable was the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), which essentially froze the number of strategic ballistic missiles at the existing levels in both nations. Also signed in this summit was the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. At the end of the summit, they had reached a mutual agreement to avoid any military confrontation as an attempt to de-escalate the conflict.

This summit was a turning point in the Cold War. Nixon was able to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and took one of the earliest steps in reducing tensions between the two superpowers. 

(1914 – 1945) Onto Greater Things: Ford Ends Production of Model T, 1927

The Ford Model-T was one of the most popular cars in America from 1908 to 1927. The very first was shipped out to their customer on Oct 1st, 1908, and from there Ford grew into the automobile giant we know today. 

A common misconception is that the Ford Model T was the first car to be popularized in America. However, electric cars were popular long before those like the Ford Model T which use internal combustion engines (ICE). The original Ford Model T had to be hand-cranked to start every time it stopped, which resulted in a lot of car buyers favoring electric cars. However, Ford soon started developing models without the need to hand crank. Here, Ford began to edge out electric cars. As roads began to be paved leading out to the country, the ICE Ford became more practical as it didn’t have the battery range restricting it. 

Farmers and those traveling to the countryside began driving Ford Model Ts. They also began to be marketed towards men, who had money to buy and operate these cars, and electric cars began to be marketed towards women. These factors and more led to the eventual dominance of ICE and the Ford Model T in the American automobile industry. 

The Ford Model T was one of the earliest mass-production vehicles. Because of Ford’s efficient manufacturing process, they could sell them for anywhere from $260 to $850. More than 15 million model t’s were made over the course of their production. The final Ford Model T was produced on May 26th, 1927, as production ended on these revolutionary cars. 

Here is where this week’s search tip comes in handy. Did you know that there is more than just newspaper articles that can give us information about things that happened in the past? One of my favorite parts about looking through old publications is looking at the advertisements they were publishing! There is always something funny or interesting to look at. That’s why for this portion, I went through a couple of different CHA and pulled out some old advertisements for the Ford Model T which perfectly captured their place within society in the early 20th century. 

Published in The Evening News, Preivew, In Newark, NJ on April 24th, 1911

Published in The Fairfield Daily Journal, In Fairfield, IA on March 21st, 1912

Published in The Fairfield Daily Journal, In Fairfield, IA on March 21st, 1912

(1824 – 1914) The Road to Independence: Republic of Cuba Established, 1902

The journey to independence in Cuba was long and difficult. The country was first controlled by Spain, who they fought to be free from for years over various conflicts. The most significant conflicts with Spain were the Ten Years War and the Cuban War of Independence. The United States intervened in the Cuban War of Independence in 1898, which led to the Spanish-American War. 

With the help of the United States, Cuba gained independence from Spain but remained occupied by American forces. While the Treaty of Paris released them from the control of Spain, they were still under military occupation from America. The United States essentially governed the island, and it wasn’t until the Platt Amendment in 1901 that they drew their forces out of Cuba. I was able to find a report of this in the Newark Evening News, published in Newark, New Jersey on May 29th, 1901

The Platt Amendment gave Cuba its autonomy, but still permitted the United States to intervene when they deemed it necessary. They were also allowed to establish an American naval base in the territory. Despite the amendment passing in 1901, it wasn’t until May 20, 1902, that they became officially independent under the establishment of the Republic of Cuba. The Newark Evening News published an extensive article detailing the history of the independence struggle and what was next to come on May 21st, 1902. They described Cuba as a country with a noble future, but only if they chose to take it. 

I hope this dive into the past taught you something you didn’t previously know. Even though these things already happened, there is always something more to learn about it. Join me again next week to discover more of history’s hidden gems and timeless tales!


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