History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, February 18th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book.

Today, the assassination of Malcolm X, plus the first successful solo flight across the Pacific Ocean in a balloon.

But first, an invention that changed photography around the world. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today with February 21st, 1947. Chemist Edwin Land demonstrates his instant camera, before the Optical Society of America in New York. Audio here from a 1948 Movietone Newsreel.

MOVIETONE: It all looks quite ordinary, but says the doctor, the difference is, all you have to do with his camera is wait exactly 1 minute, then open it up, and then find the negative and the print.

The Polaroid Land camera, with its ability to provide nearly immediate printed pictures, quickly revolutionizes personal photography.

COMMERCIAL: Take a look at this lens here. That lets you take real sharp pictures, even when there’s very little light.

Initially just black and white, Polaroid introduces its color film model in 1963:

COMMERCIAL: If you’ve been waiting for Polaroid color, this is the camera for you.

And in 1972, Land unveils the camera that makes Polaroid a household name: the SX 70.

COMMERCIAL: And now, a compact, folding, electronically controlled, motor-driven, single lens, reflex camera…

After a handful of poor product decisions and the rise of one-hour color film processing, single-use cameras, and digital cameras, Polaroid was forced to close its factories, filing for bankruptcy in 2001 and again in 2008. However, instant analog photography enthusiasts still shoot with the old cameras all over the world, and a new generation of Polaroid-compatible products are available from independent companies.

Next, February 21st, 1965, in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom. “Black Nationalist” Malcolm X is preparing to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity. News reporter Gene Simpson is sitting in the front row:

WITNESS: I heard a rumbling behind me. And I turned around in my seat to see what it was…

What Simpson saw was a man rushing the stage with a sawed-off shotgun. He fired it into the African American leader’s chest, as two other gunmen followed, shooting Malcolm X an additional 20 times.

Once a popular leader within the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X broke from the group a year earlier. His assassins were all Nation of Islam followers. Malcolm X was a vocal critic of the civil rights movement. He believed it wasn’t going far enough, fast enough. He found very little common ground with Christian leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. — who nonetheless reacted to Malcolm’s death with sadness.

KING: Nothing can be accomplished by violence. I think it is unfortunate for the black nationalist movement. Unfortunate for the health of our nation.

Malcolm X was just 39 years old when he died.

MUSIC: [CNN theme]

And finally, February 21st, 1995. Audio here from CNN:

NEWSCAST: When the 50 year old stockbroker from Chicago landed in Canada, he became the first person ever to fly a balloon across the Pacific Ocean…alone.

Fossett and his 150-foot-tall helium balloon lifted off from South Korea four days earlier. The trip got off to a rocky start when the on-board heaters broke down just 12 hours into the trip. Temperatures in his 4 foot by 6 foot sealed gondola ranged between negative four and ten degrees fahrenheit—with just a sleeping bag to keep him warm.

Fossett planned to land near San Francisco, California, but the jet stream pushed him off course. So he touched down in a small farming town in Saskatchewan, Canada instead—1,400 miles from his original destination.

Fossett set a solo-distance record in the process, covering more than 5,400 miles:

CNN REPORTER: What now? FOSSETT: There are things to consider. No one has flown around the world in a balloon…

Fossett went on to successfully solo balloon around the world in 2002. He holds many other sailing and flight records, including the first solo, nonstop, unrefueled, fixed-wing aircraft flight around the world in 2005.

AP NEWS: Early Wednesday the search resumes in Nevada’s desert for mission millionaire adventurer, Steve Fossett…

In 2007, Fossett disappeared during a routine flight from Nevada. Search and rescue crews took a year to find wreckage and his remains.

AP NEWS: Authorities have confirmed that bones found about a half a mile from the crash site…

Fossett set one more record, even in his death, as the search and salvage mission to find him and his plane was the costliest in Nevada history.

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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