History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, April 29th. 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. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book.

19 years ago, President Clinton makes an announcement that ends up creating a new craze.

EICHER: But first, 80 years ago this week, a beloved sports figure plays his final game, and sets a long-standing record that’s only been topped once. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER:The date is April 30th, 1939. It’s a sunny, 50-degree day in New York City as the Yankees host the Washington Senators. All-star first baseman Lou Gehrig struggles to make routine plays. He’s also unsuccessful at the plate—going hitless in the 3-to-2 loss.

Gehrig shows up to the ballpark for the next game but informs the coach he’s benching himself for the good of the team. As the team captain, he submits the lineup card to the umpires, and it’s the first time in 2,130 consecutive games that his name doesn’t appear. Gehrig stays with the Yankees as captain for the rest of the season, but never plays in another major league game.

The Mayo clinic diagnoses Gehrig with ALS. On July 4th, 1939, the New York Yankees celebrate: “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.” He speaks briefly to the 62,000 fans in attendance:

GEHRIG: Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. [Applause]

The crowd cheers for two minutes. “The Iron Horse” can’t contain the tears. The next day The New York Times calls it “one of the most touching scenes ever witnessed on a ball field.”

Gehrig’s consecutive game record stands for 56 years. Cal Ripken Jr. is the only player to beat it—and no other player has even come close.

Next, 50 years ago this week, May 2nd, 1969.

NEWSREEL: The Queen Elizabeth 2, just before her she sailed on her maiden Atlantic crossing. It was an occasion for streamers, balloon, and happy farewells…

The luxurious QE-2 sets off from Southampton, England, to New York. Her interior is a departure from traditional British ocean liners. Modern materials and design reflect the space-age styles of the day. Public rooms feature contemporary furniture and abstract art.

NEWSREEL: She was every bit as good as Captain Bill Warwick said she would be. Ultramodern, sleek, easy to handle, the last word in safety…

With three powerful boilers, the QE-2 is one of the fastest ships on the ocean. The maiden trip takes only four days, 16 hours.

NEWSREEL: The Manhattan skyline was the perfect backcloth for the super liner as she prepared to dock in the New World for the first time…

In 1982 the British government requisitioned the vessel as a troop carrier during the Falklands War—returning it to civilian use three months later. Carnival Cruise Lines bought the QE-2 in 1998. And when they retired it in 2011, it had sailed 5.6 million nautical miles, more than any other merchant ship in history. It carried 2-and-a-half million passengers during 40 years at sea.

Today the Queen Elizabeth 2 is moored in Dubai, where a United Arab Emirates government hotel chain operates the liner as a floating hotel.

NEWSREEL: The QE2 is very much a proud ship. Captained and crewed by men who know that she has a great role to play in British merchant shipping. She’s everything they said she’d be.  

And finally, May 1st, 2000. A presidential press release announces that the “United States will stop the intentional degradation of Global Positioning System signals.” The move means civilian GPS users will be able to pinpoint locations up to 10 times more accurately than before.

The decision opens up new applications for emergency services, search and rescue teams, and navigation systems. But it also leads to a new sport called “geocaching.”

CLIP: This bucket is my new invention…

Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant from Beavercreek, Oregon, wants to test the signal improvement. He comes up with an idea—a GPS treasure hunt.

CLIP: All this stuff is going to become the first GPS stash…

That’s audio of Ulmer preparing the very first geocache 19 years ago. It’s a logbook, and various prize items inside a covered black bucket. He buries it and shares the GPS coordinates with an online forum. The rules are simple: Find it. Write your name. Take some stuff. Leave some stuff.

Within three days, two people with GPS receivers find the container. Soon others are leaving their own stashes across the country, posting the coordinates online, and the sport takes off. According to Geocaching.com, there are currently more than 3 million geocaches in over 190 countries. Though many states regulate the sport, making some sites like cemeteries and historic locations off-limits.

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

(Photo/Queen Elizabeth 2)

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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