This Month in History: Aug

August 1
Whiskey Rebellion Begins
In 1792 the Whiskey Rebellion began. The federal government had earlier passed a tax on whiskey stills. This tax angered western farmers, many of whom produced small amounts of whiskey. These farmers asserted that the tax, as structured, unfairly benefited large producers. When violence erupted on the frontiers, President George Washington used militiamen to suppress it.  The tax remained controversial until it was repealed in 1800.
August 2
Potsdam Conference Ends
In 1945, during World War II, representatives from Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States concluded the last of the major war conferences which had been held at Potsdam, Germany. Germany had already been defeated, and at Potsdam the three nations organized the structure of post-war Europe. They agreed to divide Germany and to permit the Soviet Union to control Eastern Europe. In return, the Soviets agreed to stay out of the affairs of the West.
August 4
Department of Energy Created
In 1977 the United States created the Department of Energy (DOE). This department is charged with regulating America’s energy production, overseeing the nation’s nuclear program, and spearheading energy-related research and development. The DOE was created as a result of the Arab Oil Embargo, which brought attention to America’s unsafe dependence on imported oil.
August 5
Marilyn Monroe Found Dead
In 1962 Norma Jean Baker, better known as Marilyn Monroe, was found dead in her Hollywood home. The movie star had been suffering from depression, and had been abusing a variety of medications including barbiturates and sleeping pills. Her career was also suffering, as she had become extremely difficult to work with. Her death of an overdose was ruled a suicide, but the exact circumstances of her demise are a mystery.
August 7
Purple Heart Created
In 1782, during the American Revolution, General George Washington created the citation that would become the Purple Heart. He named it the Badge of Military Merit, and it was awarded for bravery and valor. The medal was retired after the war, but in 1931 the U.S. Congress revived it to honor Washington’s two-hundredth birthday. The revived medal is awarded to soldiers that have been injured while serving.
August 10
Smithsonian Institution Established
In 1846 The Smithsonian Institution was established. The Smithsonian was created from the estate of James Smithson, a British scientist. Smithson stated in his will that should his nephew and sole heir die without an heir his money would go to the United States to create an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”  Smithson’s nephew died without an heir in 1835. Today the Smithsonian has seventeen museums and nine research institutes.
August 11
Model T Ford Debutes
In 1908 the first Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line. Created by industrialist Henry Ford, the Model T is arguably the most successful American car ever made. Many cars preceded the Model T, including other Fords, but by the standards of the day the Model T was far more reliable and easy to drive than any other. It was also far less expensive. Millions were sold until the vehicle was replaced by the Model A in 1927.
August 13
Cortez captures Tenochtitlan
In 1521 Spanish Conquistador Hernado Cortez captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Cortez had been sent two years earlier to explore central Mexico, but he was expressly forbidden to seek conquest. Ignoring orders, Cortez exploited weaknesses in the Aztec political system to overthrow the emperor, capture the capital, and dismantle the government.
August 15
Woodstock Begins
In 1969 the Woodstock Music Festival began in upstate New York. The organizers of Woodstock expected no more than fifty thousand people, but as a result of widespread advertising five hundred thousand showed up. Although celebrated today as a cultural milestone, the organizers considered it a disaster at the time, and fear of rioting was the only reason the concert was not canceled when the crowd became overwhelming.
August 19
Salem Witch Executions
In 1692 five women were hanged in Salem, Massachusetts for the crime of witchcraft. These were among the twenty victims executed during the notorious Salem Witch Trials, which lasted until May, 1793. Although the trials were short-lived, the colonists quickly repudiated the behavior of the religious courts that led them. The infamy of the trials was instrumental in the enshrinement of separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution.
August 25
British Burn the Library of Congress
In 1814, during the War of 1812, British soldiers burned the U.S. Library of Congress. The British had entered the city the day before after defeating a small U.S. defense force, and over the next two days they burned every significant structure in the city. Many of the city’s residents had fled days earlier, including President James Madison. His wife Dolly, however, was known for her tenacity and she remained until almost the very moment the British arrived.
August 27
First American Oil Well Drilled
In 1859, in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Edwin Drake drilled the first successful oil well. This region of Pennsylvania was known for its oil that seeped from the ground.  Drake realized that by drilling a well he could extract much larger quantities. Drake developed much of the drill technology, and he struck oil at a depth of sixty-nine feet. Within months oil wells sprung up everywhere in the region, and the modern oil industry was born.
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