This Day in Business History

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April 1

1778 Oliver Pollock, a New Orleans businessman, creates the "$" symbol.
1864 James Batterson purchases the very first travel insurance policy. The policy, issued by Travelers Insurance Company, seemingly sold Batterson on the benefits of insurance coverage: three months later he purchased Travelers' first general insurance plan.
1889 The first dishwashing machine is marketed in Chicago.
1891 London-Paris telephone connection opens, after HMTS Monarch (No. 1) laid the first submarine telephone cable.
1933 Nazi persecution of Jews begins in Germany with a boycott of Jewish businesses.
1941 The first contract for advertising on FM radio, signed by the Longines Watch Company, begins on W71NY in New York City.
1970 U.S. President Richard Nixon signs a bill banning cigarette ads from radio and television.
1976 Stephen Wozniak and Steven Jobs start Apple Computer.
1986 World oil prices fall below $10 a barrel.
1991 U.S. minimum wage increases from $3.80 to $4.25 per hour.
1992 The House Ethics Committee releases a list of the 22 most flagrant abusers of the House bank. The bank, which had been closed in autumn 1991, was not a financial institution, but rather served as a common place for legislators' payroll deposits. The representatives in question were accused of overdrawing on this collective account. Though the legislators' overdrafting neither violated the bank's rules nor led to loss of federal money, it reeked of fiscal irresponsibility and stirred protest from the American public.

April 2

1792 U.S. Congress passes the Coinage Act, which founded the Mint, as well as a decimal-based currency system. Construction soon began on the Mint building, located in the nation's first capital, Philadelphia, and President George Washington installed top astronomer and mathematician David Rittenhouse as the Mint's inaugural Director. During his tenure, Rittenhouse helped usher 11,178 copper coins into circulation; he also oversaw the initial issues of gold and silver currency.
1980 President Jimmy Carter attempts to soothe America's ailing finances by signing the Crude Oil Windfall Profits Tax Act. The tax came one short year after Carter eliminated controls on oil prices; the demise of these regulations sent oil profits soaring. With the economy mired in a prolonged funk, Carter urged Congress to create legislation that would take advantage of the oil industry's good fortune. And, the Windfall Act did just that: by 1990, the legislation had helped haul in roughly $227 billion dollars.

April 3

1948 U.S. President Harry S. Truman signs into law the Foreign Assistance Act, commonly known as the Marshall Plan, after Secretary of State George C. Marshall. The program channeled more than $13 billion in aid to Europe between 1948 and 1951. Meant to spark economic recovery in European countries devastated by World War II, the plan also saved the United States from a postwar recession by providing a broader market for American goods. However, because the USSR prevented countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia from participating, the plan also contributed to the raising of the "Iron Curtain" between Eastern and Western Europe.
1974 President Richard Nixon agrees to pay $432,787.13 in back taxes for the past three years. In 1973, word leaked out that Nixon had been paying taxes commensurate with an annual income of $15,000; as president, he had in fact earned $200,000 a year. Duly suspicious, Congress marshaled a probe into Nixon's fiscal affairs. The president conceded that a few of his deductions might in fact be cause for controversy, and handed over his tax statements to the House committee in December of 1973. After intensive review and deliberation, the committee ruled that Nixon owed the IRS $476,431.
1996 Ronald H. Brown, the U.S. secretary of commerce, is killed along with 32 other Americans when their U.S. Air Force plane crashes into a mountain near Dubrovnik, Croatia. Brown was leading a delegation of business executives to the former Yugoslavia to explore business opportunities that might help rebuild the war-torn region.

April 4

1812 President James Madison enacts a 90-day embargo on trade with England. Madison's embargo was the last in a steady succession of putatively peaceful trade measures; like its predecessors, the embargo was designed to protect America's embattled merchant ships from continued attacks by the British and French (American ships had been under siege since 1807). But, the non-violent nature of Madison's response barely masked his readiness to lead America into battle, especially against the British. In November of 1811, the President had urged Congress to cloak the country in "an armor and an attitude demanded by the crisis." Madison's rhetoric was perhaps a bit disingenuous: his willingness to do battle stemmed as much from his desire to usurp British territory in Canada, Spanish Florida and what would become the American West. While expansionists, including Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, licked their chops in anticipation of war, moderate legislators still hoped to forge a more peaceful solution. Though the embargo may have temporarily appeased the moderates, it did little to forestall war: the British refused to cease harassing American ships, prompting Madison to lead America into the War of 1812.

April 5

1894 A group of striking miners in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, erupts in violence; eleven men die before the riot is finally quelled. The skirmish in Connellsville only set the stage for larger conflicts: later in the month, 136,000 miners in Ohio hit the picket line to the protest their poor wages. All told, 1894 saw some 750,000 miners go on strike.
1956 During a radio show recorded in the early hours of the day, labor columnist Victor Riesel, an outspoken critic of racketeering and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Paul Williams's star witness, openly expresses his fears that there would be retribution for his actions. A few hours later, an unknown assailant popped out of the shadows and tossed acid in the writer's face. The incident, apparently ordered by Johnny Dio, a bigwig in the garment racket and one of Williams's "prime targets," left Riesel permanently blinded. Though he complained that he felt like a "chump" for not spotting the attacker, Riesel remained undeterred and kept writing his column for the next few decades.
1976 Eccentric multimillionaire Howard Hughes dies. Hughes's checkered, though certainly profitable, career started at the age of 17, when he assumed control of his late father's tool company. A few years later, Hughes headed to Hollywood, where he produced a string of gritty classics, including The Outlaw and Scarface. In 1948, Hughes parlayed his clout and capital into a majority stake in RKO Pictures. Hughes soon sold his shares in RKO, only to buy it outright in 1954; ever the eccentric, Hughes waited but a year to sell the studio. Along the way, the offbeat millionaire indulged his passion for aviation, establishing the Hughes Aircraft Company and later buying a majority stake in Trans World Airlines. During the 1930s, Hughes flew his own custom-made plane into the record books, breaking various speed and flight-time records. Despite his glittery achievements and hefty bankroll, Hughes was never one for publicity; he ultimately retreated from public life in 1950. Hughes eventually sequestered himself away in an ever-rotating series of luxury hotels, where he would toil for days on end, surviving on a diet that leaned more heavily toward drugs than food. Hughes's death in 1976 touched off a well-publicized scrap, as a number of wills, all supposedly in the millionaire's name, were unearthed. The wills were all ultimately dismissed as frauds.

April 6

1808 Budding fur maven John Jacob Astor incorporates the American Fur Company. Astor installed himself as the lone stockholder of his New York City-based company and proceeded to make inroads into the fur business. In a few short years, he was able to mount a serious challenge to industry leaders like the North West Company. In 1810, Astor created the Pacific Fur Company; the following year, he established the South West Fur Company. Astor's new companies boosted his ability to capitalize on America's burgeoning regional markets and cemented his rise to the top of the fur trade. By 1828, Astor and his mighty fur empire stood as unrivaled kings of the fur industry.

April 7

1934 Congress seemingly came to the aid of America's farmers by passing the Jones-Connally Farm-Relief Act, which effectively placed an expanded roster of farm products under the control of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). Established in 1933, the AAA was charged with delivering farmers from the woes of the Depression by slashing production and increasing prices. Thanks to legislation like the Jones-Connally bill, as well as the controversial decision to destroy ten million acres of cotton and six million baby pigs, the AAA was soon able to boost prices and incomes for larger-scale farmers (an extended drought also played a part in hiking crop prices). However, sharecroppers, and small and tenant farmers did not readily reap benefits from the agency's programs. In 1936, the Supreme Court deemed the legislation that had fostered the AAA unconstitutional and forced Congress to draft new plans for rescuing farmers.

April 8

1942 The U.S. War Production Board accelerates the transformation of the nation's economy by ordering a halt to all production that was not deemed necessary to the war. The War Production Board's mandate quickly took hold; at the peak of the war, the military utilized nearly half of the nation's production and services. Far from causing fiscal woe, World War II proved to be a great boon to the economy: unemployment, which had climbed up to 14 percent in 1940, all but evaporated, while the gross national product doubled by the close of the war.
1952 President Truman places the steel plants in Youngstown, Ohio under his control as the city's steelworkers prepare to go out on strike. There was some reason to believe that Truman's bald face play to squelch the strike was a legal maneuver. Article II of the Constitution held that the President could only unilaterally pass and/or create legislation during periods of war. Nonetheless, Truman's seizure of the steel mills stirred controversy and led to a heated battle before the Supreme Court. In June of that same year, the Court rule in Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer that Truman had, in fact, overstepped his bounds. The finding effectively proscribed the president's power during times of national emergency.

April 9

1909 Congress seemingly helps William Howard Taft make good on his anti-protectionist pledge to slash tariff rates by passing the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act. In its initial form, the tariff called for a list of free goods, to go along with lower rates--provisions that readily appealed to Progressives, importers and exporters. On paper, the tariff promised to help pry open foreign markets to American goods, as well as to provide U.S. industrialists with a steady flow of cheap raw materials. But the legislation was far less palatable to protectionist forces in the Senate, who did their best to reshape the tariff. When it finally hit the law books, the Payne-Aldrich bill lacked the free list of goods and only lowered rates on a select set of items. The modified tariff also hiked the duties on a number of goods. Taft, who was admittedly uncomfortable in the political arena, did little to mollify Progressives and the business community. Indeed, later that spring, the president raised the hackles of his putative allies by praising Payne-Aldrich as the finest tariff ever to be passed by Congress.
1986 The French government rules against the privatization of leading French carmaker Renault. The privatization of Renault, France's second largest carmaker to PSA Peugot-Citroen, remains a highly debated issue. In 1994, the government sold shares of Renault to the public for the first time at 165 francs per share. The sale dramatically increased the company's revenue, but the French government remained the majority shareholder. Between 1996 and 1997, the market for cars in Europe grew precipitously, with the most marked increases in France. Renault, often scorned for its "public sector" policies, failed to capitalize on the growing markets. Instead foreign competitors like Volkswagen and Fiat took advantage. In 1996, Renault lost over $800 million. Renault and Peugot were the two weakest of Europe's Big Seven carmakers. Economists blame the French carmakers lack of success on its protectionist policies, and more specifically on the unwillingness of PSA Peugot and Renault to merge, a maneuver that would radically lower production costs for both auto-making giants. The question remains whether or not the government will fully privatize Renault. With economic boundaries in Europe falling rapidly, the days of France's nationally run car company may be numbered.

April 10

1816 With America struggling through a protracted economic slump, the federal government gives the go-ahead to a second National Bank. One of Alexander Hamilton's pet projects, the initial edition of the bank stirred opposition from states' rights advocates and lost its charter in 1811. Its successor, officially dubbed the Second Bank of the United States, opened in Philadelphia in 1817. Despite its 20-year charter and $35 million in federal funding, the bank floundered under the lead of its first chief, William Jones. An inept fiscal manager, Jones's policies exacerbated the wounds that the U.S. economy had suffered in the wake of the War of 1812. Thanks in no small part to Jones's bungling, the nation was plunged into a yearlong financial panic during 1819. Though the bank later flourished under the charge of Nelson Biddle, it didn't survive past the term of its initial charter: states' rights proponents, this time led by President Andrew Jackson, mounted a hotly contested, though again successful, drive to abolish the bank and its network of branch offices.
1962 President John F. Kennedy sharply chides the steel industry for its decision to jack up prices, calling the price increase a "wholly unjustified and irresponsible" move. A few days after Kennedy's outburst, duly chastened steel leaders rolled back the price hikes.

April 11

1930 Nicholas Brady, a stalwart figure in the banking industry who eventually became the 68th secretary of the Treasury, is born in New York City. Brady worked in banking for 34 years, serving a stint as the chairman of Dillon, Read & Company. He also worked as a director for a host of companies, including the NCR Corporation and H.J. Heinz. By the early 1980s, Brady had switched to the public sector, briefly holding a seat in the U.S. Senate, and serving in various posts in the Reagan administration. Brady was tapped for the spot atop the Treasury in the fall of 1988.
1941 President Franklin Roosevelt issues an executive order that created the Office of Price Administration (OPA). Charged with waging war against inflation, the OPA imposed price caps on a vast array of goods and attempted to keep a tight fist on key items with low inventories. Though under other circumstances such measures might have stirred controversy, Americans generally complied with the OPA. However, the agency could not quell the spread of black markets for certain items, including meat, gas and cigarettes. Following the close of the war, the OPA also proved impotent against the attacks of corporate leaders and business-friendly legislators who were itching to kill off price controls. Thus, in 1946, the OPA began curtailing its efforts and slashing its then sizable staff of 73,000 paid employees and 200,000 volunteers. Coupled with the demise of price controls, the closing of the OPA led to a heady spate of inflation.

April 12

1770 The British government moves to mollify outraged colonists by repealing almost all of the Townshend Acts. Initially passed in the summer of 1767, the Townshend Acts were the British government's fiscal and political play to maintain its power over the American colonies. The bills, named after their sponsor, Charles Townshend, not only suspended America's body of representatives, but also levied a controversial package of revenue taxes, including duties on paint, paper and tea. While English leaders viewed colonial control as a historically justified stance, Americans believed the acts smacked of undue meddling. This sent the colonies into heated, and sometimes violent, protests. America's outrage eventually prompted the British to roll back all of the acts and revenue duties, save for the now infamous tea tax.
1937 A somewhat divided Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the controversial National Labor Relations Act. First introduced by Senator Robert F. Wagner (NY), in February of 1935, the legislation was designed to codify and administer rights for the nation's workers. Along with protecting workers' freedom to strike, boycott and choose their own unions, the Labor Relations Act also laid down a list of employers' "unfair labor practices" that were now deemed punishable offenses. Though President Franklin Roosevelt initially opposed the National Labor Relations Act, Congress still passed the legislation. Roosevelt eventually changed his mind and adopted the National Labor Relations Act as part of the Second New Deal. Looking to keep a clamp on workers' rights, anti-labor forces challenged the bill's constitutionality, and eventually brought their case before the Supreme Court. There was great reason to believe that the largely conservative Court would strike down pro-Labor legislation; Roosevelt himself feared that the justices would turn their gavels against good chunks of the Second New Deal and in February of 1937, moved to add four new, pro-New Deal members to the bench. The push to "pack the Court" stirred a storm of protest from business interests and New Deal supporters alike; the outrage was only further fueled by the Court's ruling in favor of the National Labor Relations Act. Thus, the bill, while a victory for workers, was a bittersweet moment for the president, whose heretofore unblemished image was, at least temporarily, tainted.

April 13

1852 Frank Winfield Woolworth is born in Rodman, New York. A century before retail giants like Wal-Mart and Target, he pioneered the notion of the discount variety store. Woolworth had tried for a number of years to establish his own business but his various ventures met with failure. However, in the winter of 1879, Woolworth's fortunes changed, as he opened the Great 5 Cents Store in Utica, New York. Rather than specializing in one product or line, Woolworth stuffed his store with kitchen wares, beauty items and an array of other goods, none of which cost more than a nickel. Though the Utica branch of the store was eventually forced to shut its doors, Woolworth's concept soon proved to be a smashing success. Later in 1789, he opened another discount store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; though it was a tad pricier than its predecessor--Woolworth sold items that cost up to ten cents--Pennsylvanians loved the store. Having finally hit pay dirt, Woolworth set about opening a small army of discount stores across the nation. In 1911, Woolworth solidified his kingdom by merging with four retail rivals. That same year, Woolworth incorporated his empire, which now numbered over 1,000 shops, and rechristened it under a more familiar name, Woolworth's. Frank Winfield Woolworth passed away in 1919.

April 14

1865 In one of his last legislative acts before being assassinated, President Abraham Lincoln green-lights a proposal to create the Secret Service. Ironically enough, the new agency was formed to fight the rise of counterfeit cash, rather than to protect the president. However, by the 1890s, the Secret Service was increasingly called on to play its more familiar role of guarding the nation's commander in chief; in 1901, presidential protection was officially adopted as one of the agency's chief duties. Along the way, the Secret Service's job description was also expanded to include quelling frauds against the government.
1874 Congress passes The Legal Tender Act. Derisively known in some circles as the "Inflation Bill," the legislation called for $18 million worth of greenbacks to be pumped into the economy. The Legal Tender Act also certified the hefty chunk of paper notes that had been released during the previous year. All told, the bill authorized $400 million in greenbacks as legal tender. But, like other bits of legislation associated with greenbacks, the Legal Tender Act quickly became embroiled in controversy. A mere week after Congress weighed in with its decision, President Ulysses S. Grant moved to kill the bill, arguing that it would unleash a tidal wave of inflation. But the House would not be denied: in June of 1874, pro-paper forces successfully pushed another version of the Legal Tender Act into the law books. The passage of the revised bill brought the amount of greenbacks in circulation up to $382 million.

April 15

1992 Leona Helmsley, the domineering hotel impresario, begins a four-year prison term in Lexington, Kentucky. Heading off to jail on last day of the tax year was a fitting irony for Helmsley, the so-called "Queen of Mean," who had run afoul of the law for neglecting to pay her taxes. During her trial (Helmsley's husband was also charged with tax evasion, but did not stand trial due to his failing health), Helmsley admitted to evading the IRS, but refused to see anything wrong in her actions. Helmsley reasoned that the wealthy and famous were exempt from the annual surrender to the IRS, infamously explaining, "Only the little people pay taxes." The press and public alike vilified Helmsley, and her defense failed to sway the court. Helmsley was swiftly sentenced to prison for tax evasion.

April 16

1945 Just four days after President Franklin Roosevelt passed away, the federal government tacks another year on to the term of one of Roosevelt's key pieces of wartime legislation, the Lend-Lease Act. The Lend-Lease bill was originally enacted in 1941, when the U.S. was wavering between entering World War II and remaining neutral. Roosevelt, however, was increasingly committed to the fight against fascism; he was also under growing pressure from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to cease the practice of selling, rather than lending or outright giving, war materials to England. The Lend-Lease legislation remedied this situation, as America now served as "the great arsenal of democracy," providing Great Britain with money and military machinery; in return, England could make repayments either "in kind or property, or any other direct or indirect benefit which the President deems satisfactory." As the war progressed, the U.S. expanded the Lend Lease system to include China and Russia. All told, the U.S. funneled $50.6 billion worth of Lend-Lease aid to the Allies during the war, the majority of which went to Britain and the USSR.
1946 Arthur Chevrolet, brother of Chevrolet namesake Louis Chevrolet, commits suicide at age 60 in Slidell, Louisiana. Louis and Arthur made their names as car racers in the 1910s, and were known for their fearless driving styles. General Motors (GM) founder William Durant, impressed by their racing talents, invited the brothers to audition for the job of chauffeur. He reportedly took the brothers to a track and raced them. Louis won the race, but Durant gave Arthur the chauffeur job. He offered Louis a position on GM's elite Buick Racing Team. Chevrolet raced and designed for Buick during the years of Durant's GM presidency. When Durant stepped down, new GM President Charles Nash took the money away from the Buick Racing Team. Durant asked Louis and Arthur to start a new venture.Born racers, Louis and Arthur designed a performance car that became the first Chevrolet. Durant wanted something to compete with GM's lower-priced models. Disappointed with Durant's demands for an economy car, Louis and Arthur eventually left Chevrolet to pursue their own racing and design endeavors. The brothers worked closely together for their entire careers. They designed aircraft engines, car engines, and continued to race. In spite of designing many successful engines, the brothers Chevrolet had little gift for finance, and they often were pushed out of their endeavors before they could reap the rewards due to them. By 1933, both men were broke, and their racing careers were over. Louis returned to Detroit to work as mechanic in GM's Chevrolet division. In the late '30s, he suffered a series of strokes which incapacitated him and finally killed him. With his brother dead and no fortune to speak of, Arthur was a broken man.

April 17

1924 Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and the Louis B. Mayer Company merge to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM. The group was owned by Loew's Inc., a chain of theaters run by Marcus Loew. At first, the company was called Metro Goldwyn, but Mayer--who was appointed vice president--insisted on adding his name. Samuel Goldwyn had left Goldwyn Pictures after losing control of the company, but the new studio retained the Goldwyn name.
1975 Richard Nixon's treasury secretary John Connally is acquitted of accepting a $10,000 bribe from the American Milk Producers Company to push Nixon to hike "price supports" for milk, and freed to go on to a failed bid for the presidency, as well as a rocky, and ultimately ruinous, run in Texas's tumultuous oil and real estate businesses. Connally had also helped boost Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson into the Oval Office and served in Kennedy's cabinet, been governor of Texas during the late 1960s, and been severely wounded while riding in Kennedy's limousine when the president was assassinated in 1963.

April 18

1806 Congress passes the Nicholson Act (nee the Non-Importation Act), legislation which effectively shut the door on the importation of numerous British goods to America. The legislation blocked the trade of brass, tin, textiles and other items that could either be produced in the States or imported from other countries. The Nicholson Act took effect in December of 1806; but, a mere month later, President Thomas Jefferson lifted the trade blockade in hopes of speeding treaty negotiations with Britain. U.S. Minister James Monroe brokered a deal with Britain, albeit one that did little to spare America's commercial ships. In 1808, the government reinstated the Nicholson Act, though it did little to prevent America and England from sailing into another war.

April 19

1903 Eliot Ness, best known for using the tax code to take down Al Capone, is born. At the age of 26, Ness was tabbed to serve as a special agent for the Prohibition office that the U.S. Department of Justice set up in his hometown of Chicago. Ness was charged with an especially tough assignment: investigating and impeding the efforts of underworld kingpin, Al Capone. Working alongside other agents who matched his dedication and scrupulousness (hence the team's pop culture tag as the "Untouchables"), Ness led the charge against gin joints, speakeasies and other illegal institutions that flaunted the dry code of Prohibition. Along the way, the Treasury agents eventually scrounged up the information that led to Capone's conviction for tax evasion. In the years following his career-making capture of Capone, Ness held a handful of government posts, including a stint at the helm of the alcohol-tax division of the U.S. Treasury. Ness headed into the private sector before passing away in 1957.

April 20

1818 Congress heeds President James Monroe's call to uphold the fiscal integrity of domestic industry and gives the green light to sharply protectionist tariff legislation. Not only did the tariff hike duties on iron imports, but it also put the breaks on an anticipated decrease in the levy charged on textiles. Moreover, the tariff legislation marked another chapter in America's long romance with protectionist policies. From the time of its birth as a nation, the United States routinely adopted legislation designed to steel its producers' power in the international marketplace. In the years following the tariff of 1818, America's fondness for tariffs grew especially pronounced; by the 1820s, duties climbed to unprecedented levels. America's proclivity for protectionism faded by the early to mid-20th century, when the Depression and World War II prompted U.S. leaders, including President Franklin Roosevelt, to shift to a more liberal fiscal course and open the doors to international trade.

April 21

1946 Economist John Maynard Keynes passes away. His theories on the fiscal benefits of full employment formed a key part of the groundwork for President Franklin Roosevelt's response to the American Depression of the early 1930s. Born in Cambridge, England in 1883, Keynes worked as a civil servant in India during the early 1900s before returning to England around the time of World War I to work as an agent in the government's treasury department. Keynes began writing about economics following the close of the war, publishing materials that criticized the decision to burden Germany with heavy reparations; Keynes also began his investigation into the value of what was then the prevailing devotion to laissez-faire economic policies. By the early '30s, Keynes had become quite critical of the notion that "natural" fiscal forces, rather than government intervention, could ably guide a nation's economy. Keynes articulated these beliefs in The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1935-1936), that informed the New Deal, Roosevelt's package of policies designed to end the Depression by sending America back to work. Before his death, Keynes partook in the landmark 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, which, perhaps more at the urging of the U.S. government than Keynes, helped reshape the global economic order.

April 22

1970 By the end of the day, computer systems company E.D.S.'s stock plummets 50 to 60 points, which cost Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot roughly $450 million, on paper. Perot, later known for his quixotic tilts at the White House, had but a few years earlier decided to go public with his company, E.D.S. The initial offering of E.D.S.'s stock stirred a frenzy on Wall Street and Perot, already rather successful, became one of the half-dozen wealthiest Americans (Perot's riches were so recently acquired that as of 1970 he was not listed in the almanac of affluence, Poor's Register). The good times kept rolling for the company's stock and there was scant reason to think that E.D.S.'s fortunes would change. The stock's sudden decline remains something of a mystery, though many believe that E.D.S. suffered from "organized" bear raid. Whatever the cause, Perot didn't seem particularly fazed by the event; he reasoned that the loss, as well as the company's previous gains, had only existed on paper. Years later, Perot mentioned that he felt little if anything after hearing the news about his stock; in his eyes, the loss was "purely abstract."

April 23

1996 After a protracted patch of haggling and high-powered corporate squabbling, Frank Biondi begins work at Seagram Co. Ltd.'s MCA. Seagram honcho Edgar Bronfman Jr. had been aggressively pursuing Biondi to run MCA; however, his efforts had been rebuffed by Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone. Redstone, who had tacitly anointed Biondi as his successor, had hoped to wheedle "business concessions" from Seagram in return for relinquishing his prized employee. Business-related wrangling between MCA and Viacom, both big-rollers in the cable industry who had formed partnerships in a number of ventures, including the USA Network, further complicated these negotiations. But, in a move that took most observers, including Bronfman, by surprise, Redstone suddenly decided to "free" Biondi from his contract with Viacom. Though he was ostensibly clearing the path for his heir to take the reins at MCA, Redstone cited Biondi's passive business approach as a prime motivation for the termination of his contract.

April 24

1899 A strike by miners in Wardner, Idaho, turns violent when management rebuff workers' demands. The workers had pushed for a pay raise (to $3.50 per day) as well as the closing of the company stores that mine owners had used to pay and, by serving as hard-driving creditors, to enforce their tacit control over workers. When the riots were finally quelled, mine owners were left with about $250,000 in damaged or destroyed property.

April 25

1859 At Port Said, Egypt, ground is broken for the Suez Canal, an artificial waterway intended to stretch 101 miles across the isthmus of Suez and connect the Mediterranean and the Red Seas. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French diplomat who organized the colossal undertaking, delivered the pickax blow that inaugurated construction.
1996 The Senate's final vote tallies 88 to 11 in favor of the legislation on spending for the upcoming fiscal year. Never ones to move swiftly on budget or spending agreements, White House officials and Republican leaders had spent seven months wrangling over a bill. But the disastrous budget negotiations from the previous year, which had resulted in a temporary shutdown of the government that stained the reputations of key Republican legislators, no doubt helped speed the compromise. The budget deal, along with the Senate's approval of the bill, triggered a wave of optimism on Capital Hill.

April 26

1997 Once-mighty retail stalwart Woolworth's balance sheet for the first quarter of the fiscal year has operating losses of $24 million. The first quarter floundering continued an ominous trend for Woolworth, which had posted $37 million in losses during the previous fiscal year. In the wake of the news, retail analysts opined that Woolworth's trademark "five and dime" stores were outmoded. Sure enough, the mounting money woes, coupled with the rise of hard-charging competitors, including the Wal-Mart chain, ultimately spelled doom for Woolworth's bargain-basement merchandising stores. That summer, the 117-year-old chain bid adieu to the tattered five and dime format and shuttered its remaining discount stores. However, the closings did not necessarily signal the end for Woolworth, which still operates more lucrative specialty outlets, including the popular Foot Locker chain.

April 27

1773 The British Parliament passes the Tea Act, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and thus granting it a monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny.
1966 The Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads merge. The deal, which was approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission, was then the single biggest merger in U.S. corporate history. Flush with $4 billion in assets, the newly christened Pennsylvania and New York Central Transportation Company (Penn Central) instantly became one of the ten biggest non-fiscal companies in America. Despite these gaudy numbers, and a subsequent acquisition of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Rail Company, Penn Central foundered; mismanagement and financial difficulties pushed Penn Central to file for bankruptcy in 1970.

April 28

1930 National treasurer James Baker, one of the key figures during President Ronald Reagan's two-term run in the White House, is born in Texas. Baker served in the military before earning his law degree at the University of Texas. By the mid-1970s, Baker became a fiscally minded public servant and did a stint as under-secretary of commerce in President Gerald Ford's cabinet. A favorite son of the Republican Party, Baker helped the GOP team of Reagan and George Bush capture the Oval Office in 1980; Reagan rewarded Baker by handing him the plum role as White House chief of staff. However, early in Reagan's second term in office, Baker felt the fiscal itch and swapped jobs with then-Secretary of the Treasury, Donald Reagan. Baker took over at the Treasury in February of 1985, amidst fears from arch conservatives that he would push through a round of unsavory tax hikes.

April 29

1863 The newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst is born in San Francisco. He was the only son and principal heir to western mining magnate George Hearst.
1926 The U.S. and France seal a deal that eventually wiped away 60 percent of the French debt. France, who owed the U.S. in the neighborhood of $4 billion, also agreed to a 62-year term, at 1.6 percent interest, for the repayment of its debt.

April 30

1803 The "greatest land bargain" in U.S. history, the Louisiana Purchase, is dated April 30, 1803 though it was in fact signed on May 2. It had been in the works since the spring of 1802. All told, the Louisiana Purchase cost the U.S. $15 million: $11.25 million was earmarked for the land deal, while the remaining $3.75 million covered France's outstanding debts to America. Thus, for the prime price of 3 cents an acre, the United States bought 828,000 square miles of land which effectively doubled the size of the young nation.
1939 The New York World's Fair opens in New York City. The opening ceremony featured speeches by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and New York Governor Herbert Lehman and ushered in the first day of television broadcasting in New York. Spanning 1,200 acres at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, the fairground was marked by two imposing structures--the "Perisphere" and the "Trylon"--and exhibited such new technology as FM radio, robotics, fluorescent lighting, and a crude fax machine. Norman Bel Geddes designed a Futurama ride for General Motors, and users were transported through an idealized city of the future. Sixty-three nations participated in the fair, which enjoyed large crowds before the outbreak of World War II interrupted many of its scheduled events.



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