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Not Your Century

A daily celebration of the news—and the news media—of years gone by. From front page stories to colorful tales from the back pages, Not Your Century from the San Francisco Chronicle 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. Hosted by King Kaufman.

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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
1977: The Golden Dragon Massacre
Three gang members walk into a crowded Chinatown restaurant in the wee hours with long guns. The worst mass shooting in San Francisco history to date kills 5 and wounds 11 — none of them the intended targets.
5 min
1976: Crisis on the Viking 2
The spacecraft has lost radio contact with earth and it's plunging through 1,000 miles of the martian atmosphere. This is not how the mission was planned. Will NASA's Hail Mary work?
4 min
Best of NYC: Labor
A collection of episodes with stories about work, workers and organized labor for your Labor Day listening. From the original March on Washington to Jimmy Hoffa's last lunch meeting.
22 min
Live! San Francisco History Trivia, Part 2
It’s the rest of the story as King Kaufman regales a live audience at the Betabrand Podcast Theatre in San Francisco with tales of a murderous editor and an animal activist on a moral crusade.
27 min
The “Vertigo” Mansion — Live!
That strange rooming house that Kim Novak slips into and disappears from in the movie? It had a strange story in real life. “Cool Gray City of Love” author and Portals of the Past columnist Gary Kamiya tells it to a San Francisco audience.
15 min
Reliving the Dotcom ’90s — Live!
Return to those VC-fueled days of yesteryear with Owen Thomas, who pestered his way onto the staff at Suck.com and then became a chronicler of Silicon Valley at Valleywag, Red Herring and, now, the San Francisco Chronicle. Recorded live.
14 min
Live! San Francisco History Trivia, Part 1
Join King Kaufman and a living, breathing audience at the Betabrand Podcast Theatre in San Francisco for strange tales of murderous editors and naked mayors. First of four live episodes.
15 min
1920: The 19th Amendment
The women's suffrage amendment is quietly certified, a week after the deciding vote was cast in Tennessee by a young legislator who listened to his mom.
5 min
1879: San Francisco's Political Gunfight
S.F. Chronicle founder and editor Charles de Young's political beef with Baptist minister and mayoral candidate Isaac Smith Kalloch culminates in a shooting. But that's not where it ends.
6 min
1991: Gorbachev Survives Coup Flu
The Soviet president was held prisoner in his vacation home by hardliners who announced he was sick and threatened to remove him — maybe kill him — if he didn't back off his glasnost and perestroika reforms. He didn't.
6 min
1911: Mona Lisa Stolen
The Mona Lisa was famous among art lovers when Vincenzo Peruggia walked out of the Louvre with it under his arm. Since that moment, it's been the most famous painting in the world.
6 min
1968: Prague Spring Crushed
The Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invade the capital of Czechoslovakia, bringing a violent end to the eight months of liberalization and reform under Alexander Dubček.
5 min
1957: The Giants Are Coming
The board of directors of the New York baseball Giants makes official something the Chronicle had reported three months earlier: The most successful team in National League history was moving to San Francisco for the 1958 season.
4 min
1965: A Tense Peace in Watts
The neighborhood south of downtown Los Angeles has been wracked by six days of violence in the wake of a traffic stop of a black man by a white cop. Was the fighting a riot? Or was it a community rising up against its oppressors?
4 min
1969: Woodstock, Day 1
We know it as an iconic "three days of peace and music." Early media reports made it sound like a natural disaster had hit Max Yasgur's farm, and barely mentioned what happened onstage.
5 min