This Month in History: July

July 1
Rough Riders Capture San Juan Hill
In 1898, during the Spanish-American war, a force of eight thousand American troops successfully captured San Juan Hill, near Santiago, Cuba. One of the regiments was led by Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had personally raised his regiment, and led it despite having little military experience. The bravery of Roosevelt and his men made him a national hero, and played a key role in his being elected U.S. vice-president in 1900.

July 2
James Garfield Fatally Shot
In 1881 an assassin shot and mortally wounded U.S. President James Garfield. The assailant was a disgruntled applicant for a government job. Garfield was hit once in the arm and once in the abdomen. The second bullet lodged near the President’s spine and did not hit any major organs. Over the next two months doctors prodded the wound with unwashed fingers and instruments, which created a massive, fatal, infection. Had doctors left Garfield alone he would likely have survived and recovered.

July 3
Battle of Gettysburg Ends
In 1863, during the Civil War, a Union Army defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Gettysburg. On this day, the third of the battle, Lee attempted to overrun the Union lines with a dramatic forward charge only to be stopped with extremely heavy losses. The next day the city of Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River would surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant. These two major Union victories mark a significant turning point in the war.

July 6
First Rabies Vaccine
In 1885 French scientist Louis Pasteur administered the first rabies vaccine. The patient was a boy that had been bitten by a rabid dog two days earlier. This experimental vaccine consisted of an inactivated version of the rabies virus. Pasteur administered it in various doses over the course of fourteen days. The boy survived, and later became the director of the Pasteur Institute.

July 7
Construction Begins on the Hoover Dam
In 1930 construction began on the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. The federal government began planning the dam in the early 1920s, and it was officially known as the “Boulder Canyon Project.” When completed the Hoover Dam was easily the largest dam in the world, and it enabled electricity to be brought to vast section of the American Southwest. It also created Lake Meade, which provides water to Las Vegas, Nevada.

July 9
First Open Heart Surgery
In 1893 Dr. Daniel H. Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery. At the time most doctors believed that nobody could survive the opening of the chest cavity. In this instance the patient was a stabbing victim, and Williams performed the surgery as an emergency procedure, believing that it was the only way to save the patient’s life. The patient survived and fully recovered. Remarkably, the surgery was performed without anesthesia.

July 12
Eisenhower Proposes Interstate Highways
In 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower proposed the construction of a federal interstate highway system. Two years later it was passed into law. The initial Interstate System took thirty-five years to complete, but repair and new construction keeps the system a work in progress across the country. It is easily the largest public works project in the world. It is also generally believed to be among the most successful.

July 14
Baby and Child Care Published
In 1946 Dr. Benjamin Spock published The Common Sense Guide to Baby and Child Care. This book revolutionized the way babies and young children were raised in the Western World and is easily the best selling child care book of all time. Spock’s primary philosophy was that children should be recognized as having dramatically different emotional and physical needs than adults. He called on parents to be less authoritarian, and he emphasized the need for children to express themselves.

July 15
Nixon “Opens” China
In 1971 U.S. president Richard Nixon announced that he would visit China. The two nations had not had official diplomatic relations since Communist forces took control of China in 1948. In April, 1971 China invited the United States table tennis team to visit. After this event the Nixon trip was planned. Nixon’s visit was a profound success. The President toured the country and met with China’s top officials, including leader Mao Zedong. Soon after the visit the two countries established formal diplomatic ties and began to negotiate trade agreements.

July 17
U.S./Soviet Joint Space Mission
In 1975 the NASA spacecraft Apollo 18 and the Soviet Soyuz 19 connected while in orbit. This was the first time vessels from the two countries connected, and they did so as part of an exercise to develop rescue techniques. The two ships remained together for forty-four hours during which time they shared meals, exchanged gifts, conducted experiments, and held a joint news conference.

July 21
USS Constitution Sails Again
In 1997, after years of restoration, the USS Constitution sailed under her own power for the first time in more than one hundred years. Constructed in 1797, the Constitution was one of the first ships built by the U.S. Navy. She served in a number of conflicts, including the War of 1812, and earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” after a victorious battle against the British warship HMS Guerriere.

July 31
Washington Quarter Introduced
In 1932, to commemorate George Washington’s birthday, the U.S. mint introduced the “Washington Quarter,” which is still used today. Prior to this, U.S. quarters had featured different versions of Lady Liberty. A committee charged with designing the new coin held a contest, and eventually selected a design based on an 1785 bust of Washington. However, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon disliked it and overruled the committee. He instead chose a simple design that depicts Washington’s profile. The Washington quarter chosen by Mellon is still in production today.

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