History Book


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, June 3rd. 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.

Forty years ago, a drilling accident on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Plus, 80 years ago, the United States refuses entry to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe.

EICHER: But first, this week marks the 175th anniversary of one of the largest non-profit community-service organizations in the world. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today during the early days of the European Industrial Revolution.

English drape-maker George Williams notices that young urban men have very few options for after-work activities. Taverns and brothels are the most common diversion. Williams begins hosting prayer meetings and public Bible-readings and the men come.

On June 6th, 1844, Williams starts the first Young Men’s Christian Association, or YMCA, in London with two other businessmen. Their vision: to improve the “spiritual condition of young men engaged in the drapery, embroidery, and other trades.” The organization spreads and soon broadens its outreach to men in all trades and industry.

As the YMCA grew, it did more than Biblical instruction. It also promoted indoor exercise, health, and sportsmanship. Three popular sports began in YMCA gyms: basketball, racketball, and volleyball.

AUDIO: The YMCA is so much more than just a gym…

Today, the “Y” is one of the largest non-profit organizations in the world. There are more than 2,700 facilities in the U.S., staffed by 600,000 volunteers. Last year it reported more than 22 million youth and adults participated in local programs.

Next, June 4th, 1939.

AUDIO: [Ship horn/ocean sounds]

The U.S. denies entry to the MS St. Louis, a ship carrying more than 930 Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s wrath.

A week earlier, the vessel arrived in Cuba, hoping to drop off its passengers as they awaited immigration approval to settle in the U.S. A handful already had valid papers and departed. But those who didn’t had to remain on board in the harbor.

After days of negotiation, Cuba’s president ordered the ship out of Cuban waters. Sol Messinger was just a boy at the time and describes his experience.

MESSINGER: We started sailing out of Havana Harbor. You can’t imagine how people felt. It was terrible. Here we were a few hundred feet from safety and we weren’t being allowed to land there. The mood on the ship was horrible. And people did threaten to commit suicide.

Audio courtesy of “Facing History and Ourselves.”

Newspapers around the world published the account of the MS St. Louis. The ship sailed close to Florida, hoping the U.S. would grant them entry. The State Department and the Roosevelt White House declined.

U.S. diplomats continued to appeal to the Cuban government, but without success. The St. Louis had to return to Europe with its 900 refugees.

MESSINGER: One day before we were actually supposed to land in Hamburg that we got the word that four countries had agreed to split up the passengers. And those four countries were: England, France, Belgium, and Holland.

According to the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum, more than 200 of the St. Louis passengers eventually died at the hands of the Nazis—either during German invasions or in concentration camps.

And finally, June 3rd, 1979, 40 years ago today.

SOUND: And in the Gulf of Mexico, oil workers are trying to handle a much larger oil spill. A burning, offshore oil well is dumping 30,000 barrels of crude each day into the Gulf…

A drilling accident at the Ixtoc I oil well breaks the safety shut-off system irreparably. It takes more than nine months for crews to drill two relief wells and cap off the gusher.

In the end, the Ixtoc disaster released more than 3 million barrels of oil into the gulf—making it the second-worst oil spill ever recorded.

AUDIO: [Report from 1979]

Forty years after the accident, those fears seem overstated. John Tunnell is a marine biologist and Texas A&M professor. He says today it looks like it never even happened. When he thinks back on how devastating the spill was in 1979, he can only shrug his shoulders and admit that nature seems much more resilient than we often anticipate.

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


(Photo/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) MS St. Louis

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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