Not Your Century

On hiatus as of March 2020 because of the coronavirus crisis. Get unlimited access to the Chronicle. | A daily celebration of the news — and the news media — of years gone by. King Kaufman takes you on a quick tour of the Bay Area and the world as it used to be, which often colors the world of your century.

1945: Adolf Hitler's Suicide
A day after Americans learned that the Nazi leader had died, they learned that Germany's official announcement that Hitler had died in battle was a lie. He had killed himself as the Red Army captured Berlin and closed in on his bunker.
4 min
1973: Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice at the Whi...
Investigators have evidence that high-ranking officials of the White House and President Nixon's reelection committee conspired to cover up the Watergate break-in. They haven't figured out Nixon's role yet, but John Dean is about to start talking.
4 min
1913: The SFPD Bunko Scandal
Fat envelopes of cash are being handed over the bars of North Beach. To the cops. And they're going down. The real scandal? A century later, not enough people use the word "bunko" anymore.
4 min
1986: The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster
The USSR has finally admitted that something happened, but Western observers are worried it's worse than officials are letting on. The Soviets rarely ask the West for help, announce a problem on Tass, or say a government investigation is underway.
4 min
1958: U.S. Space Program Failing
The Soviet Union is sending Sputnik satellites into orbit, but for the United States, it's failure after failure. The latest Vanguard rocket has plunged into the sea from 140 miles up.
5 min
1963: Fidel Castro Visits Nikita Khrushchev
In something of a surprise, the Cuban premier heads to the Soviet Union for the first time amid rumors of tensions with the Soviet leader in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Meanwhile, Khrushchev opens a new front in the Cold War: Women's panties.
3 min
1894: The First March on Washington
The Butte, Montana, faction of Coxey's Army has stolen a freight train and is headed east, part of a nationwide convergence to demand a jobs and infrastructure program. So who was Coxey? And how'd he get an army?
5 min
1957: Failed the Bus Driver Test? Try Cable Cars
If you blow the San Francisco Municipal Railway's bus driver test, don't worry. They'll send you over for cable car training. The Public Utilities Commission thinks that's odd, but Muni defends its policy.
4 min
1935: Pan Am Clipper Crosses the Pacific
In the first of four test flights, Pan American's "flying boat" completes a round-trip to Hawaii with a water landing in front of 10,000 spectators at Alameda. It's the first step toward passenger service to Asia.
5 min
1993: Hacker Busted, Joe Montana's Farewell
Prosecutors are throwing the book at Kevin Lee Poulsen, a notorious hacker who rigged radio station contests to finance his life on the lam for other crimes. Plus: Joe Montana bids adieu to San Francisco and the 49ers.
5 min
1962: The Prehistoric Google Bus
Commuters are taking private luxury buses to their jobs on the Peninsula, and people are fighting mad about it. It's a preview of the Google Bus fights of a later century. But without Wi-Fi.
5 min
1912: Scant News from the Titanic
Three days after the great ship sank, news is still scarce. The rescue ship Carpathia has gone silent. But word is filtering in over the wires about who survived — and who didn't.
4 min
1990: Chinatown Is Closed
Mayor Art Agnos wants to tear down the Embarcadero Freeway, badly damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. Chinatown shuts down as its business leaders head downtown to fight for repair of the road they say is their lifeline of customers.
4 min
Bonus: Mike Sager on Janet Cooke
Mike Sager worked with and dated Janet Cooke at the Washington Post and later wrote a book about her. The veteran author and magazine writer talks about his friend, "the fabulist who changed journalism."
17 min
1981: Space Shuttle Soars, Janet Cooke Crashes
Real news: The inaugural flight of the space shuttle Challenger. Fake news: The Washington Post returns Janet Cooke's Pulitzer Prize after editors discover she made up her story about an 8-year-old heroin addict.
4 min
1891: A Lot of Ruckus Over Oranges
The people of Chicago are amazed! They're coming by the trainload to gaze at produce from California. The oranges are the star of the show. It's a precursor to the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, which in turn would lead to a giant fair in Golden Gate Park in 1894.
4 min
1923: General Theory of Relativity Confirmed
You'll be glad to know Albert Einstein was right. Astronomers at the Lick Observatory in San Jose confirmed it by examining photos of a 1922 eclipse. How did that confirm Einstein? We asked an astronomer at the Lick Observatory. Plus: The curse of the mummy’s tomb!
6 min
1906: Mount Vesuvius Erupts
Untold thousands died when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., including Pliny the Elder. The death toll wasn't as high in 1906, but it was high. Vesuvius remains an active volcano. How am I going to be an optimist about this?
3 min
1952: Nationwide Labor Strife
Big Steel accuses President Harry Truman of being in bed with the labor unions after he nationalizes the industry to ward off a strike by steelworkers. There are huge strikes in industries across the country as labor battles the wage and price controls Truman had put in place at the beginning of the Korean War.
4 min
1975: Operation Babylift
85 Vietnamese orphans arrive at Travis Air Force Base in the latest flight of Operation Babylift — the massive, controversial evacuation of children from South Vietnam in the dying days of the Vietnam War. President Gerald Ford is there for a photo op.
3 min
1924: Ambushed in Albania—2 San Franciscans Killed
The U.S. Navy would send warships to the area after a pair of American businessmen are killed by a bandit gang. The accused killer claims he was under orders from the prime minister—who would later become king.
4 min
1961: Raising Muni Fares and Honoring Hydrant 12
San Francisco bus fares are the lowest in the nation and Muni, facing a deficit, wants to do something about that. Plus: A plaque for the hydrant that saved the Mission District in the 1906 earthquake and fire? Spoiler alert: Yes. You can go look at it.
5 min
1910: Teddy Roosevelt vs. the Pope
You've got to be pretty bold to tangle with the pope. Teddy Roosevelt was pretty bold. On a post-presidential world tour, TR wired to ask for an audience with Pius X, but when the Vatican asked him to submit to certain conditions, the old Roughrider got rough. Featuring guest star Jason Feifer, host of the history podcast Pessimists Archive, as Roosevelt.
7 min
1954: Last Stand at Dien Bien Phu
Viet Minh forces were laying siege to Dien Bien Phu, which the French had fortified in hopes they could bait the rebels into a battle the French thought they could win. They were wrong about that. Plus: A San Francisco boxing champ wins, and the Army makes a significant hire.
4 min
1997: Cult Left an Arsenal Behind
The beatific, peace-loving Heaven's Gate cult, whose members had committed mass suicide, left behind a cache of weapons and ammunition, police find. Plus: On Opening Day for the Giants, Matier and Ross note fans' sticker shock at the concession prices at Candlestick Park. Would you believe $4 for a beer!
3 min