History Book – The Alamo, Hoover Dam, and Rocket 88


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

This week, remembering the Alamo, the Hoover Dam, and a rock-and-roll milestone. Here’s WORLD senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.

SONG: “Texas, Our Texas”

KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Everything’s bigger in Texas—except a very small mission in the heart of San Antonio known as the Alamo. But despite its petite size, the Alamo boasts a larger-than-life history. And March 6 marks 185 years since the Battle of the Alamo concluded in 1836. 

Actor Patrick Wilson played Colonel Travis in the 2004 movie The Alamo. In this scene, he depicts the legendary moment of challenging his meager forces to remain committed to the cause.

ALAMO: If anyone wishes to depart, under the white flag of surrender, you may do so now, but if you wish to stay here, with me, in the Alamo, we will sell our lives dearly. 

Travis drew a line in the dirt, inviting men who would sacrifice their lives for the Republic of Texas to cross it. All but one man stepped over it. 

The 13-day siege claimed the lives of notable revolutionaries like Jim Bowie and William B. Travis, and famed frontiersman Davy Crockett. Mexican forces vastly outnumbered the Alamo defenders. Wesleyan University’s Richard Slotkin spoke to the History Channel about their poor odds.  

SLOTKIN: At the Alamo you have one of these American citizen armies, volunteer armies, only 186-some odd guys, defending this outpost against an army of thousands, hoping for aid, hoping for rescue, and ultimately realizing they were going to be disappointed in their hope of rescue. 

They fought hard, holding off the Mexican forces for nearly two weeks. But on the morning of March 6, Mexican forces broke through a breach in the outer wall of the courtyard. They took no prisoners, sparing only a few Texans—as a warning.

Despite the near-total loss of Texas’ forces at the Alamo, General Santa Anna’s Mexican army sustained heavy casualties, too. The courage of the Alamo defenders—and their valiant defense of the fortress, despite tremendous disadvantages—spurred on the remaining Texas troops. 

“Remember the Alamo” became their rallying cry, leading them to victory a few weeks later at the Battle of San Jacinto. That victory ensured success in the battle for Texas Independence from Mexico. In fact, Texas will celebrate its 185th birthday tomorrow.  

SONG: “REMEMBER THE ALAMO,” JOHNNY CASH

Turning from a small structure to a massive one. On March 1, 1936, five years of work came to an end with the completion of the Hoover Dam. 

The concrete arch-gravity dam straddles the border of Nevada and Arizona, in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. And it addressed real needs: controlling floods, providing irrigation water, and producing hydroelectric power. 

But no one had ever attempted a concrete structure of that size, and the rough terrain and merciless summer weather presented challenges. 

The lack of nearby infrastructure and resources created another hitch. Paul Mazza is with San Francisco Regional Water. He explained that the dam builders had to look far and wide to find the 3,250,000 cubic yards of concrete they needed.

MAZZA: There was no source of cement—at least of that volume—in the Western United States coastline, so they had to bring it from England, around Cape Horn. 

Construction workers and engineers succeeded, though the cost was high. Over 100 construction workers lost their lives working on the dam. 

Today, the dam’s generators provide power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California. 

AUDIO: [Tourists walking through the tunnels of the Hoover Dam]

It’s not far from Las Vegas, Nevada, making it a major tourist stop, attracting nearly a million people each year. 

MUSIC: “Rocket 88,” Jackie Brenston, Ike Turner, and Kings of Rhythm

Moving now from concrete to rock of a different variety… 

It’s been 70 years since the recording that most music historians call the first rock and roll record. That happened March 3, 1951, when Jackie Brenston joined Ike Turner and his band at a studio in Memphis to lay down the song “Rocket 88.” 

LYRICS: You women have heard of jalopies
You heard the noise they make
Let me introduce my new Rocket ’88

Turner wrote it as an ode to the Oldsmobile “Rocket 88” car. He referenced jump blues and swing combo music—popular styles of the day—and layered in Brenston’s splashy vocals, 17-year-old Raymond Hill’s saxophone, and Willie Sims’ percussion. Turner played piano. 

And the trailblazing track showcases some production risks: like one of the first examples of distortion in music. Band guitarist Willie Kizar added that “fuzz guitar” sound after his amplifier was damaged en route to record the song. Producer Sam Phillips liked the rawness the broken amp produced and used it to great effect. 

Time Magazine reviewed the song, writing at the time, “If the blues seemed to give voice to old wisdom, this new music seemed full of youthful notions. If the blues was about squeezing cathartic joy out of the bad times, this new music was about letting the good times roll. If the blues was about earthly troubles, the rock that Turner’s crew created seemed to shout that the sky was now the limit.”

MUSIC: “Rocket 88,” Jackie Brenston, Ike Turner, and Kings of Rhythm

I’m Katie Gaultney.


(Illustration/Public Domain) Drawing of the Alamo Mission in San Antonio first printed in 1854 in Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion.

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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