History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It, the WORLD Radio History Book with Paul Butler.

But since Paul’s here, now’s a good time if you live in the Omaha, Nebraska, area, to let you know Paul and I will be there next weekend, Saturday evening, October 13th.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: Yes, and we’d love to meet you. We’re calling it “Off the Air: A conversation with Nick Eicher & Paul Butler.” And we’re offering free tickets, but you do need to go online and reserve yours now. This will be a time for discussion, questions and answers, and a brief explanation of WORLD Radio’s future plans and goals.

EICHER: We’re eager to meet you and give you the opportunity to meet others who also appreciate WORLD and The World and Everything in It. We will be at the Holiday Inn Omaha Southwest from 7 p.m. to 8:30. Details at worldandeverything.org. At the very top of the page, you’ll find a link that says “Omaha event.” Click on that and it’ll take you to a site that allows you to claim your free tickets.

BUTLER: Right, again, that’s worldandeverything.org, look for that link at the top, click it, and sign up. That’s Saturday, October 13th. But if you’re interested, it’ll be first come, first served. When we run out of space, we run out of space.

EICHER: That’s going to be a great time. Always fun to hang out with you, Paul.

BUTLER: And me you! Well, let’s begin this week’s WORLD Radio History Book with a bang! October 4th, 1918, in the final weeks of World War 1.

AUDIO: [Sound of explosion]

The town of Sayreville, New Jersey, is home to the TA Gillespie Company, the largest munitions factory in the world. An explosion triggers a fire that rages for three days—destroying 300 buildings, and more than 12 million pounds of explosives destined for the Allies fighting in Europe.

Here’s Kim Rasmussen reading the front page story from the 1918 Evening Public Ledger, a newspaper from Philadelphia:

RASMUSSEN: Detonation followed upon detonation and these repeatedly shook the terrain for a radius of 50 miles…

The shells from the explosions shower down on the surrounding towns of Amboy, Perth, and Morgan. Eighteen hours after the first explosion, firefighting and rescue crews still can’t get closer than 2 miles from the firestorm. More than 60,000 people evacuate:  

RASMUSSEN: The roads leading out of devastated districts were thronged all night and all day with men, women and children fleeing to points of safety.

The official investigation reports it as an accident, though accounts of German sabotage continue even today. The death toll was never fully settled, partly due to the Spanish flu pandemic that decimated the surrounding towns in the months following the explosion, especially those left homeless by the fire.

Next, October 1st, 1958 .

GLENNAN: There are no blueprints, or roadmaps which clearly mark out the course, the limits of the job are no less than the limits of the universe.

One year after Russia successfully launches Sputnik, the U.S. Congress establishes the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA. Thomas Glennan is its first Administrator.

GLENNAN: The course of the new agency can be compared to the voyage of Columbus to the New World. The only difference is that Columbus, with his charts drawn entirely from imagination, had a better idea of his destination than we possibly have when we step into outer space.

NASA’s charter sets forth eight lofty objectives, including: the expansion of human knowledge, the development of spacecraft capable of carrying experiments and astronauts, and peaceful cooperation with other nations.

AUDIO: [Sound of SpaceX launch]

With the rise of private astronautical companies like SpaceX, Boeing, and Virgin Galactic, the long-term viability of the government space agency is in question. But its existing infrastructure and intellectual legacy means NASA will continue to be a key player in the race for Mars.

And finally, October 4th, 1993:

NEWS SOUND CLIP: It was at around 7 o’clock this morning that Boris Yeltsin took the fateful step of ordering his troops and tanks to attack the White House and flush out the defenders… 

25 years ago this week, military units supportive of Russian President Boris Yeltsin bombard the Russian parliament. The trouble began years earlier when instability rocked the country after Yeltsin’s election and economic reforms. The crisis came to blows after Yeltsin attempted to dissolve the legislature, which in turn impeached him. Yeltsin, claiming national support, turned to the military.

NEWS SOUND CLIP: At about 2:30pm, men with white flags came out of the building apparently to negotiate. Then dozens more people climbed out of the wreckage to surrender. Those who surrendered included rebel MPs, parliamentary staff, and the militia who had tried—and failed—to defend them.

Yeltsin manages to hold on to power, and within two months, successfully seats a new parliament and passes a new constitution, granting the president sweeping powers. Yeltsin resigns 6 years later, appointing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting president.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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