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Not Your Century

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. From the San Francisco Chronicle. | Get unlimited access to the Chronicle.

History
News
Politics
1
1972: Nixon Arrives in China
The lifelong anti-Communist shocks the world by initiating the first high-level contact with the People's Republic in more than 20 years. Even after he's driven from office, it would remain a signature achievement.
4 min
2
1963: A Great City Forced to Drink Swill
Total SF host Peter Hartlaub joins King Kaufman to talk about the most infamous headline in San Francisco history and the man behind it, Scott Newhall, the mad genius of the Chronicle's mid-century rise.
10 min
3
1937: Golden Gate Bridge Disaster
Chief engineer Joseph Strauss' massive safety net had saved 12 construction workers who'd fallen during construction. They called themselves the Halfway to Hell Club. Then a broken bolt turned the net into a killer.
5 min
4
1929: St. Valentine's Day Massacre
In the most famous hit in American mob history, seven members of Bugs Moran's North Side Gang are gunned down, cementing control of Chicago for Al Capone's South Side Gang.
5 min
5
1999: Impeachment Acquittal
Despite a GOP majority in the Senate, President Bill Clinton is easily acquitted on both articles of impeachment stemming from his lies about an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
5 min
6
1967: The Pill and the Puritan Ethic
Sparks fly at a San Francisco panel on changing sexual mores as anthropologist Margaret Mead suggests a new kind of marriage and promotes access to birth control for 16-year-old girls.
5 min
7
1986: Steve Jobs Buys Pixar
The big Bay Area business news of the day is Wells Fargo buying Crocker Bank. Nobody knew the computer graphics division of Lucasfilms would become a $7 billion company.
5 min
8
1956: Integration Fail at Alabama
Seven years before Gov. George Wallace's Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, Autherine Lucy integrates the University of Alabama. But she's expelled after two days — "for her own protection."
6 min
9
1997: Vallejo Courthouse Bombing
They were the gang that couldn't bomb straight. Their plan to blow up court records was dumb, they didn't know anything about dynamite, and they talked too much.
5 min
10
1865: 13th Amendment Passes House
As the Union nears victory in the Civil War, a constitutional amendment that would ban slavery wins a close vote. All that's needed now is ratification by three-quarters of the states. But do states at war with the U.S. count?
5 min
11
1977: "Roots" Is a Sensation
An 8-part miniseries about slavery told from the point of view of the slaves? ABC acted like it was afraid its adaptation of Alex Haley's novel was going to flop. It became the biggest hit in TV history.
5 min
12
1971: Charles Manson Convicted
After a circus of a trial, the leader of a murderous "family" and three female followers are guilty on all charges in the Tate-Labianca Murders, which claimed the lives of Sharon Tate and six others.
5 min
13
1972: Japan Holdout Soldier Found
When Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi of the Imperial Japanese Army is captured on Guam, the first thing he asks is whether FDR has died yet. Well, yes, 27 years earlier, just before the end of World War II.
5 min
14
1901: Queen Victoria Dies
Britain mourns its longest-reigning monarch, who dies after nearly 64 years on the throne. Her screw-up, playboy son Bertie is about to be crowned King Edward VII — and all he'll do is save the monarchy. | Related: Edward VII Dies
6 min
15
1954: The Moskovitz Kidnapping
It's one of the most dramatic capers in San Francisco history, and San Francisco has no idea it's going on. The media agrees to clam up so the bad guys won't know the cops are on the case. Related: Patty Hearst
7 min
16
1865: The First Chronicle
Teenage founders Charles and Michael de Young have big ambitions for the daily theater program and newspaper they've founded with $20 borrowed from their landlord. In the first edition, they're already itching for a fight.
5 min
17
1919: Boston Molasses Flood
Nothing so sweet — and so ridiculous-sounding — has ever been so deadly. A storage tank bursts, sending a 15-foot wave of the sticky stuff through the streets of the North End at 35 mph, killing 21.
6 min
18
1929: Death of Wyatt Earp
When he died, the old Wild West lawman wasn't yet the legend of "Tombstone" or "Gunfight at the OK Corral." He was a guy who'd fixed a famous boxing match in San Francisco. The mythmaking kicked in later.
6 min
19
1901: The Spindletop Oil Gusher
It's a strike that will transform Texas and pave the way for the industrial and transportation revolutions of the 20th century. Four million gallons a day shoot 200 feet into the air for nine days, and the oil industry is born.
4 min
20
1978: Harvey Milk Sworn In
With his arm around his boyfriend's shoulders, the first gay elected official in California leads a parade of supporters to City Hall to start his historic, and tragically short, term on the Board of Supervisors.
6 min
21
1994: Nancy Kerrigan Attacked
America's top female figure skater is whacked on the knee at the Olympic Trials in Detroit. Rival Tonya Harding is implicated. The story consumes the sports and tabloid worlds — and supercharges figure skating's popularity.
6 min
22
Best of NYC: Climate Change and Coit Tower
Serious business at two conferences: One on climate change, the other on humor. Plus: Old firefighters shed a tear for Lily Hitchcock Coit at the dedication of Coit Tower. First published June 27 and Oct. 8.
11 min
23
Best of NYC: Dark and Bright Times
Near the end of a shocking (but not surprising) FBI spying operation on the gay community, Air Force Technical Sgt. Leonard Matlovich becomes the face of the gay rights movement in America. First published Sept. 20 and Oct. 22.
11 min
24
Best of NYC: The Future Is Here
Twenty years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle published a special section on what life would be like in the Bay Area ... in 20 years. So now that the future is here, how'd they do? Mark Lundgren, who edited that section, talks about it. First published Nov. 14 and 15.
11 min
25
Best of NYC: NFL and an Escape
Some businessmen sit on running boards of cars in a Canton, Ohio, car dealership and talk about a crazy idea: A national football league. Plus: One of the Great Train Robbers escapes from prison. First published Sept. 17 and Aug. 12.
11 min
26
Best of NYC: S.F. History Trivia, Part 2
More fun at the Betabrand Podcast Studio as audience members learn about San Francisco history and occasionally get trivia questions correct. Recorded Aug. 22, first published Aug. 30.
27 min
27
Best of NYC: S.F. History Trivia, Part 1
Live from the Betabrand Podcast Studio, audience members vie for valuable* prizes and learn some of the wild details of San Francisco history. Recorded Aug. 22, first published Aug. 27. *Not that valuable.
15 min
28
Best of NYC: Patty and Squeaky
A couple of female-centered true crime stories from the 1970s. Patty Hearst was a kidnap victim, and then was she a bank robber, or a brainwash victim? And: Manson Family member Squeaky Fromme took a shot at President Ford. The gun didn't fire. First published Sept. 18 and Sept. 5.
11 min
29
Best of NYC: Martians and the Mona Lisa
Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast sends America into a panic! Didn't it? And the reason the Mona Lisa is so famous is that a guy tucked it under his arm and walked out of the Louvre in 1911. First published Oct. 30 and Aug. 21, 2019.
14 min
30
Best of NYC: Free Speech Battles
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is acquitted on obscenity charges in San Francisco for publishing Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." A few years later in Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement gets its start in a stranded cop car. First published Oct. 4 and Oct. 1, 2019.
12 min
31
1941: San Francisco Blackouts
A week after Pearl Harbor, a jittery San Francisco struggles to prepare for what seems like an inevitable Japanese air raid. The Presidio commander suggests such an attack might be a good idea — to convince stragglers of the need to be ready.
5 min
32
1989: Queen of Mean Sentenced
After a trial in which a household maid quoted her as saying "We don't pay taxes — only the little people pay taxes," Leona Helmsley, the real estate mogul who was a tabloid favorite, is sentenced to prison for tax evasion.
4 min
33
1978: The Lufthansa Heist
JFK airport was easy pickings for robbers, but this job stood out. The robbers — who would be immortalized in "Goodfellas" — were incredibly efficient. Their only mistake: They thought they were stealing $2 million, not $6 million. 
5 min
34
1963: Frankie Safe!
Frank Sinatra's 19-year-old son is kidnapped before a gig in Lake Tahoe. Is it a publicity stunt? No. It's real. Ol' Blue Eyes offers $1 million ransom. The kidnappers' counteroffer: $240,000. Wait, what?
6 min
35
1968: The Mother of All Demos
He introduced the mouse. He introduced videoconferencing. He introduced copy and paste! Douglas Engelbart sat in front of an audience of computer professionals at Civic Auditorium and blew their minds by showing them the future.
5 min
36
1969: The '60s End at Altamont
It started as a West Coast answer to Woodstock: A free concert in Golden Gate Park with the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. It ended in violence and death at Altamont Raceway in Tracy.
6 min
37
1955: Montgomery Bus Boycott
Montgomery's black community, led by 26-year-old Martin Luther King Jr., launches a one-day protest against the arrest of Rosa Parks. The boycott lasts more than a year, and sets the tone for civil rights protests in the next decade.
5 min
38
1993: Polly Klaas Found
The search for the kidnapped 12-year-old from Petaluma had captivated the nation, but now, after 65 days, came the worst possible news: A confession, and a grisly discovery.
5 min
39
1967: First Human Heart Transplant
Everyone thought Stanford's Norman Shumway would be first to transplant a human heart, but a tragic drunk-driving crash gave South African Dr. Christiaan Barnard, who had worked with Shumway, his chance at worldwide fame.
5 min
40
1997: Warriors Star Chokes Coach
The Golden State Warriors thought they'd hit rock bottom when they lost 13 of their first 14 games. Then star player Latrell Sprewell choked coach P.J. Carlesimo, leaving a three-inch scratch on his neck.
5 min
41
Best of NYC: First!
A collection of episodes about firsts and beginnings to celebrate the start of the holiday season: The first cable car run in San Francisco, the first federal prisoners to arrive at Alcatraz, and the founding of the Black Panthers.
17 min
42
1992: Revenge of the Nerds
Booming Santa Clara County is home to the largest concentration of computer engineers in the world, and they're almost all men. Mental health experts say they're paying a price for the boom. Lost episode from Aug. 30.
5 min
43
1983: Hillside Strangler Guilty
The Hillside Strangler terrorized Los Angeles for months in 1977 and '78. It turns out there were two stranglers, Kenneth Bianchi and his cousin Angelo Buono, whose trial was the longest in U.S. history to that point. Lost episode from Oct. 31.
6 min
44
1963: JFK Assassinated
Like every city, town, village and hamlet in America, San Francisco grinds to a halt as news spreads that President John F. Kennedy has been shot and killed in Dallas.
4 min
45
1985: A Spy For Israel Arrested
In a rare case of espionage involving an ally, Jonathan Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst, is busted for selling U.S. secrets to Israel. He says he did it to right a wrong. Prosecutors say he did it for money.
5 min
46
1945: Nuremberg Trials Begin
Not long ago, they'd been powerful men in a country that had conquered much of Europe. Now these 21 former Nazi leaders listen meekly as they're charged with crimes against humanity.
5 min
47
1973: Sweeping Powers for Nixon
With the Watergate scandal in full swing, the Democratically controlled Senate votes to give Republican President Richard Nixon broad authority to respond to the energy crisis stemming from the OPEC oil embargo.
5 min
48
1978: The Jonestown Massacre
Rep. Leo Ryan, D-San Mateo, and four others are killed and his legal aide, Jackie Speier, is among those injured in a shooting at an airstrip in Guyana, a prelude to more than 900 members of the formerly San Francisco-based People's Temple dying in the jungle.
11 min
49
Bay Area 2020, Part 2
In the second of two parts, we look at the predictions and scenarios in the San Francisco Chronicle's 1999 "guide" to life in the Bay Area in 2020, including one very big thing that, you won't be surprised to hear, they didn't mention.
5 min
50
Bay Area 2020, Part 1
In 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle published a special section, a guide to life in the Bay Area in the unimaginably distant year of 2020. How'd the predictions do? First of two parts.
5 min
51
1953: Robin Hood Is a Commie!
Steal from the rich and give to the poor? That sounds like communism! And an Indiana official says the Prince of Thieves should be banned from textbooks. He isn't, but the controversy spawns the Green Feather Movement, an important moment in college campus activism.
5 min
52
1936: Bay Bridge Opens
Emperor Norton ordered a bridge to be built between San Francisco and Oakland via Yerba Buena Island in 1872. Now, more than a half-century later, that bridge opens in the most appropriate way: With a massive traffic jam.
5 min
53
1918 World War I Ends
The world erupts in celebration as Germany signs the Armistice, ending the fighting in the War to End All Wars. Hundreds of thousands pour into the streets all over the Bay Area, delirious with joy.
5 min
54
1923: The Beer Hall Putsch
Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and 600 of his followers take over a beer hall where Bavaria's military leader is speaking. The leader gives way, but the coup fizzles, and Hitler decides on a new strategy.
5 min
55
1917: The Bolshevik Revolution
The Bolsheviks storm the Winter Palace and overthrow the Provisional Government in the second Russian Revolution of the year. A bloody civil war remained to be fought before the Soviet Union was established.
5 min
56
1968: Strike at San Francisco State
The Black Students Union and the Third World Liberation Front call a student strike to protest the lack of representation for people of color in the curriculum, faculty and administration. The strike will last into March and have a profound impact on American higher education.
4 min
57
1967: Ronald Reagan's "Gay Ring"
Washington columnist Drew Pearson accuses California's conservative governor of doing nothing about a gay sex scandal in his administration. Reagan denies it. But you'll never guess where the columnist got his information.
5 min
58
1979: Iranians Storm U.S. Embassy
It's the start of the Iran Hostage Crisis, a 444-day episode that would convulse American politics and culture: Students loyal to revolutionary Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran and take more than 60 hostages.
5 min
59
1950: Assassins Target Truman
A pair of well-dressed men walk up to Blair House — the temporary presidential residence — and open fire. They're Puerto Rican nationalists, trying to assassinate President Harry Truman, who pokes his head out the window to check on the commotion.
5 min
60
1926: Death Shackles Houdini
The King of Magicians dies on Halloween. Of course he does. Joe Posnanski, author of the new biography "The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini," talks about what made Houdini great — which also might be what killed him.
10 min
61
1938: The Martians Are Coming!
Orson Welles' radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" causes nationwide panic about a Martian invasion. At least, that's the legend. Really, hardly anyone heard the show, and the few people who panicked thought it was the Germans who were coming.
6 min
62
1929: Black Tuesday
Here comes the Great Depression. The stock market crash wasn't a one-day event, but the one day known as Black Tuesday shattered records, and it was a wild day on the Wall Street of the West, Montgomery Street in San Francisco.
4 min
63
1995: Mayor Jordan Takes a Shower
A week and a half before Election Day, Frank Jordan, running for re-election, thinks it'll be fun to go along with a morning radio show stunt. One result is a photo of him and two DJs naked in his shower. Another is a very happy opponent, Willie Brown.
5 min
64
1929: Secretary Fall Is Convicted
Albert B. Fall, secretary of the Interior under President Warren G. Harding, is found guilty of taking a bribe in the Teapot Dome scandal. He's the first Cabinet member ever convicted of a felony.
4 min
65
1906: San Francisco City Hall Scandal
The grand jury is in session. The boodlers who may end up in the dock? — that's how the Chronicle put it. Mayor Eugene "Handsome Gene" Schmitz and Abe Ruef, the Boss Tweed of San Francisco, the head of the city's political machine.
5 min
66
1995: Selena's Killer Convicted
Yolanda Saldivar said she meant to kill herself, not Selena Quintanilla, when they met in a motel room to hash out charges that Saldivar was embezzling money from "the queen of Tejano music." A jury didn't believe her.
6 min
67
1975: "I Am a Homosexual"
With those words, on the cover of Time magazine, Air Force Technical Sgt. Leonard Matlovich becomes the face of the gay rights movement in America.
5 min
68
1989: A Miracle in the Rubble
After four of the saddest days in Bay Area history, at last there's a reason for hope and joy: Longshoreman Buck Helm has been found alive in the rubble of the Cypress Structure.
5 min
69
1989: Loma Prieta Earthquake, Part 2
San Francisco Chronicle reporters talk about where they were when the earth shook on Oct. 17, 1989, and what they did once it stopped. Memories from Kevin Fagan, Nanette Asimov, John Wildermuth, Bruce Jenkins and Sam Whiting.
18 min
70
1989: Loma Prieta Earthquake, Part 1
A magnitude 6.9 earthquake kills more than 60 people, injures hundreds, damages the Bay Bridge and other roadways and buildings, and interrupts the Giants vs. A's World Series. Citizens and first responders remember where they were.
21 min
71
1995: The Million Man March
They came to Washington in fleets of buses, caravans of cars, and scores of redeye flights. The march may or may not have attracted a million men — the crowd size was hotly disputed in the aftermath — but it was massive.
5 min
72
1966: Black Panthers Founded
Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, a pair of Oakland political activists, form an organization to protect the African American community from police violence. They call it the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
5 min
73
1919: Marcus Garvey Shot
A man bursts into the offices of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and shoots its founder, who survives. Garvey is best remembered for his "back to Africa" sentiments, but his views on black self-sufficiency had a huge influence on the Civil Rights Movement.
5 min
74
1906: San Francisco Segregates Japanese Kids
A San Francisco Board of Education order forces all students of Japanese heritage to attend one school. It's a win for anti-Japanese immigration forces, but it angers President Theodore Roosevelt and causes an international incident.
5 min
75
1913: Panama Canal Opens
President Woodrow Wilson presses a telegraph key in Washington and 4,000 miles to the south, eight tons of dynamite blow away the last barrier between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans at the Panama Canal. First through? A pair of Americans in a rowboat.
4 min
76
1967: Che Guevara Killed
The Argentine doctor turned Cuban revolutionary icon had a grandmother born in San Francisco and "the blood of the Irish rebels in him." He's executed on the battlefield in Bolivia, where he was leading forces in a rebellion against the CIA-backed government.
5 min
77
1933: Coit Tower Dedicated
The old hearts of retired San Francisco volunteer firemen fluttered under their red shirts as they listened to speeches about Lillie Hitchcock Coit, their mascot and admirer, who left a third of her estate to further "the beauty of the city which I have always loved."
5 min
78
1960: JFK, Nixon Go Toe-to-Toe
Their first televised debate — the first presidential debate in U.S. history — had been pretty tame. But now, in a TV studio in Washington with no audience, the gloves are off as the young senator from Massachusetts and the vice president battle over how to handle the Cold War.
5 min
79
1957: "Howl" Is Not Obscene
Allen Ginsberg isn't on trial for writing the poem but another poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is — for selling it at his City Lights Books. The hippest crowd that ever gathered at the Hall of Justice cheers the verdict.
5 min
80
1995: O.J. Simpson Acquitted
It wasn't the first 20th century trial to be dubbed the Trial of the Century. But it might be the one that keeps the title. The gloves didn't fit, and the Juice was acquitted.
6 min
81
1950: "Peanuts" Debuts
"Good ol' Charlie Brown," a little boy sitting on a curb says as a soon-to-be-familiar character with a round head strolls pass. "How I hate him!" The angst-filled, psychologically fraught newspaper comic has arrived.
5 min
82
1964: Free Speech Movement Born
A former grad student sits in a car at UC-Berkeley but he's not going anywhere. He's under arrest, the car is surrounded by fellow protesters, and Mario Savio is standing on the roof giving a speech. It's the first hours of the Free Speech Movement.
4 min
83
1982: Extra Deadly Tylenol
Seven people die in the Chicago suburbs after taking Extra Strength Tylenol laced with cyanide. The murders are never solved. The case, which terrorized America, changed the way medicine and food are packaged.
4 min
84
1983: Drug and Alcohol Crowd at the White House!
That's what Interior Secretary James Watt called the audience for the Beach Boys when he banned them from a July Fourth concert at the National Mall. But whoops: The Reagans dug the nostalgia act. Originally aired June 13, 2019.
5 min
85
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. Originally published April 12, 2019.
6 min
86
1995: Talking With the Unabomber
"I'm just very fortunate that I'm not dead," UC Berkeley professor Tom Tyler said after receiving a letter from the Unabomber. It was his manifesto, not a mail bomb. And Tyler wrote back. Originally published July 3, 2019.
6 min
87
1905: "I Am Poisoned!"
Jane Lathrop Stanford, co-founder of the university, survives a poisoning attempt at her palatial home in San Francisco. Devastated, she sails to Hawaii, vowing never to return to her house. She doesn't. A second poisoning kills her—a murder that Stanford's president covers up. Originally published March 1, 2019.
5 min
88
1967: Ballet Superstars Busted
A complaint in the Haight leads to the cops breaking up a hippie pot party. Among those under arrest: Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn. Rudy pouts and tells reporters, "You're all children!" Originally published July 11, 2019.
4 min
89
1989: The FBI's Gay Spying Program
The Chronicle's Randy Shilts reports that the FBI conducted exhaustive and apparently illegal surveillance of the gay-rights movement from the '50s to the '70s, despite never finding evidence of any subversive activity or crime.
5 min
90
1952: Charlie Chaplin Exiled
Once one of America's most beloved movie stars, the great comedian was now being hounded by the FBI for his leftist politics and by the media for a series of personal scandals. Sailing for London, he learns he's not welcome to return to the U.S.
5 min
91
1975: Patty Hearst Arrested
A tip leads police to knock on a door in the Outer Mission. When Patty Hearst answers, it ends a 19-month odyssey that saw her go from kidnapped newspaper heiress to dangerous fugitive, wanted for bank robbery.
5 min
92
1920: The NFL Is Born
It all starts in a car dealership showroom in Canton, Ohio. Reprentatives of teams from the Midwest and Northeast sit on running boards as they hammer out the details of a league that, a half century later, will come to rule American sports.
5 min
93
1963: Birmingham Church Bombing
Even by the standards of "Bombingham," the explosion that ripped through the 16th Street Baptist Church was shocking. It was the 21st racist bombing in eight years, but the first fatal one, killing four girls as they got ready for Youth Day services.
5 min
94
1993: Oslo Accords Signed
Not long before Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin accepted the handshake offer of Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat during a White House ceremony, it had been illegal for an Israeli to talk to a PLO member.
5 min
95
1940: Lascaux Cave Paintings Discovered
Some teenage boys out for a walk in the woods stumble upon a living museum of prehistoric times, "a cavalcade of animals larger than life," the stunning colors of the drawings preserved by the cave's geology.
5 min
96
1998: The Starr Report
The case for impeachment against Bill Clinton is also a salacious page turner outlining the president's White House affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. The independent counsel says the titillating details are necessary.
4 min
97
1963: Integration War in Alabama
President John F. Kennedy federalizes the National Guard in response to Gov. George Wallace using guardsmen to block black students from enrolling in schools after he'd pledged "Segregation forever."
4 min
98
1986: The First National Oprah Show!
She hadn't worked out as a TV reporter in Baltimore, but when Oprah Winfrey turned a low-rated local talk show in Chicago into a hit, she was on her way to building an empire. Going national was the next big step.
5 min
99
1978: The Top Female Cop in the World
SFPD Officer Dorothy Jorgensen has some wild stories from the mean streets of the Tenderloin after she's named Officer of the Year by an international women's police organization for her work as a decoy.
4 min
100
1975: Squeaky Fromme, Would-be Assassin
The Charles Manson follower has a clear shot at President Gerald Ford as he walks through a park in Sacramento, but her gun doesn't fire. It's the first of two Northern California attempts on the president's life in three weeks.
5 min