This Day in History

This Day in History… August 9, 1944

Smokey Bear Created to Join the War Effort 

U.S. #2096

On August 9, 1944, the U.S. Forest Service created Smokey Bear to encourage people to prevent forest fires.

Though forest fires had long been an issue, America’s involvement in World War II made fighting these fires more difficult. Most able-bodied men were fighting overseas, so there weren’t enough young men to fight fires. In 1942 the Forest Service used Disney characters from the film Bambi on colorful posters to raise awareness on how to prevent forest fires. But those characters could only be used for a year, so the forest service needed their own mascot.

In 1944 they created Smokey Bear, named after New York City firefighter “Smokey” Joe Martin. The first poster was designed by Albert Staehle and pictured Smokey pouring a bucket of water on a campfire with the message “Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” Smokey quickly became a household name, with toy companies producing teddy bears and a variety of posters hanging across the country. Continue reading

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This Day in History… August 8, 1929

Graf Zeppelin Begins Round-the-World Journey from New Jersey 

U.S. #C13

On August 8, 1929, the Graf Zeppelin departed the airfield in Lakehurst, New Jersey, to return 12 days later.

The first attempt to fly the zeppelin around the globe began on May 14 of that year. Engine troubles forced the Graf to land in France, after which it was returned to Germany. Mail that was carried aboard this initial flight received a note stating “Beförderung verzögert wegen Abbruchs der 1. Ameriksfaht.” (“Delivery delayed due to cancellation of the 1st America trip”).  This is sometimes called the “Interrupted America Flight.” Continue reading

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This Day in History… August 7, 1782

George Washington Creates Forerunner of Purple Heart 

U.S. #3784//4704 – 2003-12 Purple Heart stamps

On August 7, 1782, George Washington ordered the creation of the Badge of Military Merit to be awarded for bravery in battle.

“Let it be known that he who wears the military order of the purple heart has given of his blood in the defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countryman,” wrote Washington in 1782, in the order that established the Badge of Military Merit. Three soldiers are known to have received the award directly from Washington, although there may be more. The names were recorded in the Book of Merit, which has since been lost.

Two Connecticut men, Elijah Churchill and Daniel Bissell, received the award. Churchill led two raids against forts on Long Island, while Bissell was a spy disguised as a deserter. He operated behind enemy lines and provided Washington with key information. The third was Daniel Brown, who in the final battle at Yorktown led an attack over a thicket of sharpened spikes against a fortified position, capturing the fort in minutes. British General Cornwallis surrendered soon afterwards. Continue reading

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This Day in History… August 6, 1777

American Victory at Oriskany 

U.S. #1722 – The site of the battle, in Oriskany, New York, is just 25 miles from Mystic’s home in Camden!

In the summer of 1777, British troops under Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger traveled down New York’s Mohawk River Valley. When they encountered the American-held Fort Stanwix on August 2 the British began a 20-day siege.

Militia General Nicholas Herkimer (pictured seated on this stamp) was in the area and marched toward the fort to provide relief. However, St. Leger learned of Herkimer’s movements and planned a surprise attack. On the morning of August 6, Herkimer led his men through a nearby valley (in present-day Oriskany) where they were ambushed by a band of Loyalists and British-allied Indians. Early in the fighting, Herkimer was struck by a musketball that shattered his leg. His men carried him to a nearby beech tree and urged him to be removed from the battlefield. But Herkimer insisted “I will face the enemy” and sat calmy under the tree smoking his pipe, giving orders, and delivering words of encouragement. Continue reading

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This Day in History… August 5, 1926

Houdini Performs His Greatest Feat 

U.S. #3651

On August 5, 1926, master illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini entered the record books after spending 91 minutes in a coffin underwater.

Houdini began performing at the age of 10 and quickly earned a name for himself. Having worked as a locksmith’s apprentice, he used handcuffs in his acts until imitators began to surface. He then turned to more daring escape acts and his popularity skyrocketed.

In July 1926, magician Rahman Bey spent an hour in a box underwater, setting the first record for such a feat. He then challenged Houdini to try it. Ever the competitor, Houdini excitedly accepted. Continue reading

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This Day in History… August 4, 1916


U.S. Acquires Danish West Indies 

Nearly 50 years after the first negotiations took place, the United States purchased the Danish West Indies from Denmark, later renaming them the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The first attempt by the U.S. to purchase the islands came in 1867. Secretary of State William Seward successfully negotiated the treaty with the Danish parliament. But the Senate rejected the treaty because Seward had previously supported President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment trial. Continue reading

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