History Book – Italian unification, and gambling in Nevada

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, March 15th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up: The WORLD History Book.

Today, Italian unification, the self-proclaimed inventor of the chicken sandwich, and the legalization of gambling in Nevada. Here’s senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.

KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Italy brought us geniuses like Galileo and da Vinci, and too many culinary masterpieces to mention. But for its long history of contributions to the world, the Kingdom of Italy only became a nation state on March 17, 1861. 

Professor Eugenio Biagini of the University of Cambridge told the BBC in 2018 what Italy’s leaders settled on: 

BIAGINI: Well, to begin with, it is a constitutional monarchy, it has a parliament consisting of two chambers, a senate appointed by the king, and a chamber of deputies… 

For centuries, Italy had been politically fragmented, with various kingdoms and city states in the region. But in the mid-19th Century, people showed increasing support for Italian unification, a process referred to as the Risorgimento. The kingdoms of Rome and Venetia remained outside the newly unified Italy for another decade.

The unified kingdom was relatively short-lived. But it played an expansive role in modern history, with attempts to colonize parts of the African continent, waging war against the Ottoman Empire, and even enduring its own civil war. The Kingdom of Italy saw Mussolini’s rise to power and became a committed—if fairly lackluster—member of the Allied powers in World War II. 

AUDIO: [World War II battle]

But, the harsh conditions of that conflict contributed to growing resentment of the monarchy, whom the public believed tacitly endorsed Mussolini’s fascism. A constitutional referendum brought an end to the kingdom in 1946. 

SONG: [Chick-fil-A commercial music]

Moving from Italy to the American Southeast. Yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of the self-proclaimed inventor of the chicken sandwich. Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy was born in Eatonton, Georgia, on March 14, 1921. 

CATHY: What does a cow say?/ Moo!/ Who said “moo?” In Georgia, pigs say “moo,” cows say “eat more chicken!”

That’s Cathy addressing a crowd at Dallas Theological Seminary in 2012, with Chick-fil-A’s iconic slogan. Cathy was known for his Southern good manners and Baptist faith. He was just 25, and a recent World War II veteran, when he opened The Dwarf Grill in an Atlanta suburb. That kitchen became the birthplace of his most famous creation, and what would become known as the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich. Early on, he made the polarizing decision to keep his restaurants closed on Sundays to allow employees family and worship time. He told “The 700 Club” that convictions matter. 

CATHY: Well, that’s the trouble, adults as well as young people, you try to be a people-pleaser to everybody, and you just can’t do that. You have to kinda stick to your convictions—what’s right and what’s wrong—and we try to do that. 

This year, the restaurant he founded back in 1946 turns 75. Under his watch, the chain grew to more than 1,800 locations in 40 states and the District of Columbia. In November 2013, after nearly six decades in the restaurant business, he retired as Chick-fil-A chairman and CEO, leaving those roles to one of his sons, Dan. 

Cathy died in 2014 at the age of 93, leaving a legacy of philanthropy, a wife of more than six decades, and three adult children.

SONG: [“The Chicken Dance,” the Emeralds]

And we’ll end today with a change prompted by The Great Depression: The legalization of gambling in Nevada on March 19, 1931. 

CLIP: I won! Look at this, I won! I won a million dollars!

AUDIO: [Sound of casino]

Advocates lobbied for decades to legalize gambling. The first state legislature tried in 1864, but the measure failed. Instead, lawmakers compromised, lessening penalties for illegal games of chance. 

So when the market crashed in 1929, lawmakers revisited the gambling laws on the books. The state’s economy had taken a nosedive along with the rest of the country. Desperate times led the state to legalize gambling in 1931. Las Vegas, of course, became the casino capital of the state, and while the state’s income saw an uptick, so did organized crime. But it took another decade-plus before the rise of the Las Vegas strip. Author and professor Dr. Michael Green spoke to the Mob Museum about those early sanctioned gambling operations. 

GREEN: … very small operations, a few tables. If there’s any entertainment it’s a guy on a piano in the corner because there isn’t much space. 

Of course, Las Vegas now brings to mind sprawling resorts and elaborate shows. Today, state gambling taxes make up the bulk of Nevada’s overall tax revenues. But of course, for all the economic impact, casinos are fertile ground for societal problems. Multiple studies report casinos get anywhere from 30 to 55 percent of revenues from gambling addicts. 


That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.


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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