Today in History
History's Happenings for September 18
After the Civil War, industry in the north, especially the railroads, expanded at a great pace. Corruption was endemic not only in the large corporations hungry for government contracts and favors, but in the highest circles of government as well. The false sense of profit generated by the flow of graft and the waste of public funds finally resulted in a financial panic on September 18, 1873, with the usual consequences to the ordinary citizen.
Financial panics are hardly unexpected in a free-market society, though except for greed and corruption, they might be far more limited in scope and severity. Everyone remembers -- even if just from word-of-mouth -- the Panic of 1929, and its consequences. There were similar Panics in America in 1837, 1857, 1869, 1881, 1893 and 1987, all of different lengths and degrees, all following abnormally boom times. Although tempered by other events — notably 9/11 — we saw yet another minor bust-after-boom in 2001.
President George Washington laid the cornerstone of our national capitol on this date in 1793. The original north wing was completed first, and Congress occupied it in 1800. The main building (minus the later rotunda and dome) was completed in 1807. The British burned the building in 1812, gutting its interior.
Rebuilt after the war, capitol architect Charles Bulfinch completed the rotunda during that period, and Thomas Walter added the modern north and south Congressional wings, and the signature iron dome, in the 1850's. Until 1935, the Supreme Court met in the old north wing, in the original Senate chamber.
The Capitol is built of white marble, except for a portion of the west front, which is Virginia sandstone, painted white. Surmounting the great iron dome is a statue of a woman, traditionally entitled "Freedom". The height of the building to the tip of the statue is 287.5 feet.
The American flag which flies over the capitol is considered a special gift to deserving Americans, presented by members of Congress or other government dignitaries. Unfortunately this practice has been demeaned a bit, to where the flag is changed as often as several times an hour.
(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.
As the recently signed National Security Act took effect on this date in 1947, the War Department changed its name to the "National Military Establishment" (later thankfully changed to the Department of Defense.) The new organization brought under its common wing the formerly separate Navy Department.
Also created under the Act were the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency (out of the wartime OSS) and the U.S. Air Force (formerly the Army Air Corps).