February 9, 1964 – It’s not a doll; it’s an “action figure.” Hasbro introduced GI Joe, but, careful not to use the “d” word, they described the 12" soldier as “America’s moveable fighting man.”
He was named by a Hasbro executive after a World War II movie entitled "The Story of GI Joe," starring Robert Mitchum.
February 21, 1965 — Malcolm X, the activist and former Nation of Islam leader, stood up to speak in a New York ballroom when shots rang out. The force of the bullets knocked him over backwards. Pandemonium breaks out as his wife Betty cried out, “They’re killing my husband!” His assassins are identified as Black Muslims.
February 3, 1966 – A Soviet spacecraft, the Luna 9, became the first to achieve a soft landing on the moon, and immediately began transmitting photographic data back to Earth. Space experts believed this gave the Soviet Union a major edge over the United States in the race to land a man on the moon.
February 14,1967 – Aretha Franklin recorded “Respect.” She didn’t write the song — Otis Redding did — but she gave it new life. “I have been in many studios in my life, but there was never a day like that,” recalled arranger Arif Mardin. “It was like a festival. Everything worked just right.”
February 12,1968 – Figure Skater Peggy Fleming won the only American gold medal at the Winter Olympic Games in France. She had a reputation for fragility, but, said Sports Illustrated in its cover story that week: “There is every reason to believe Peggy could break the Oakland Raiders' Ben Davidson in half with one quick body block.”
February 4,1969 - Fatah leader Yasser Arafat was elected chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, ending the control of moderates placed there by Arab nations. A young guerrilla warrior with a flair for publicity, Arafat had already made the cover of Time magazine. Under his leadership, the PLO became the representative of the Palestinian people.
February 18,1970 – The Chicago 7 were found guilty of crossing state lines with the intent of inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The trial featured some of the weirder moments seen in an American courtroom: defendants munching on jellybeans, wearing judicial robes, trying to hold a birthday party in court.
February 9,1971 – Los Angeles was just waking up when a 6.5 earthquake jolted the region at 6:01 a.m. The Sylmar quake lasted about 60 seconds, long enough to take 65 lives, injure more than 2,000 people and cause $505 million in property damage. Among the destroyed structures were the newly built, earthquake-resistant buildings at Olive View Hospital in Sylmar.
February 21,1972 – President Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China. “The week that changed the world,” said Nixon of his eight-day visit. Per Nixon’s instructions, the press corps heavily favors TV over print journalists, turning the diplomatic first into a visual extravaganza. “For once, a White House public relations strategy succeeded,” Kissinger later wrote.
February 7, 1973 – The Senate voted to form the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities to investigate the Watergate break-in. Senator Sam Ervin (D-North Carolina) would chair it. When the hearings began in May, they were broadcast live on all three major networks. Some portion of them are watched by 85% of U.S. households.
February 7,1974 – "Blazing Saddles" premiered. The Mel Brooks classic almost didn’t make it into theaters at all, after it flopped at a screening for Warner Bros executives. But Brooks then set up another screening for the studio’s employees — who laughed uproariously throughout the movie. The slapstick comedy became the highest grossing Western of all time.
February 11,1975 – Britain’s Conservative Party chose its first woman leader ever, Margaret Thatcher. She was “the most exciting phenomenon in British politics,” declared the New York Times, speculating that if this level of enthusiasm held, she could be England’s first female prime minister. Said Thatcher of her victory: “I am very, very thrilled.”
February 4,1976 – Newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst went on trial in San Francisco for armed robbery. Prosecutors said she was a willing participant. Her lawyers argued she’d been brainwashed by her kidnappers. The public was fascinated. Hundreds lined up for a seat in the courtroom, many saying they’d taken vacation days at work, or called in sick.
February 8,1977 – Penthouse publisher Larry Flynt was convicted in Cincinnati of engaging in organized crime and selling obscene material. “I am proud to be part of the fight for freedom,” Flynt said. He was sentenced to 7 to 25 years in prison, but served less than one week before an appeals court overturned his conviction.
February 1,1978 – Director Roman Polanski skipped bail and fled the country after pleading guilty to charges of engaging in sex with a 13-year-old girl. On the day of his sentencing, he snagged the last seat on one of two daily British Airways flights between Los Angeles and London. Eventually, he settled in France.
February 1,1979 – The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran after nearly 15 years in exile. Millions lined the streets of Tehran to cheer his arrival from France. They proclaimed to each other, “Agha Amad!” (“The Holy One has come!”) Said the Ayatollah: “Final victory will come when all foreigners are out of the country.”
February 1980 – Seven storms moved through Southern California in nine days; Los Angeles County alone received 13 inches of rain. One woman in the posh Mandeville Canyon neighborhood was buried by mud that slammed into her home; another hillside home slid into the middle of the street, where it remained for three days.
February 24,1981 – Prince Charles announced his engagement to Lady Diana Spencer. He said he proposed earlier this month, before she left on a trip. “I wanted to give her a chance to think … if it was all going to be too awful,” he says. “Oh, I never had any doubts about it,” she responded.
February 1,1982 – “Late Night With David Letterman” debuted. The first show features an over-the-top number with showgirls in green feathered headdresses, and a visit by a decidedly scruffy Bill Murray. One segment, “Shame of the City,” featured Letterman extracting a promise from a N.Y. deli employee to change the restaurant’s misspelled sign.
February 4,1983 – Singer Karen Carpenter died of heart failure, triggered by anorexia, at 32 years old. She had recently brought her weight back up from a skeletal 85 pounds to 108 pounds; doctors later theorized that the too-rapid gain put a strain on her heart. Her death helped ignite a public discussion on the ravages of the disease.
February 22,1984 – David Vetter, “the boy in the bubble,” died at 12 years old, fifteen days after exiting his plastic bubble for the first time to deal with complications from a bone marrow transplant. David suffered from a rare, inherited condition called severe combined immunodeficiency. In 2014, the disease is now treatable in 90 percent of cases.
February 1,1985 – “Talk about monopoly,” said the LA Times. Jane Fonda has three of the ten top titles on Billboard’s video cassettes sales chart: “Jane Fonda’s Workout,” Prime Time Workout” and “Workout Challenge.” “Jane Fonda’s Workout” had been a top 10 title for 145 weeks. It would go on to be the top-grossing home video of all time.
February 25, 1986 – Remember Ferdinand Marcos, one-time Filipino president? Hint: His wife, Imelda, kinda liked shoes. On the 25th, after insisting all month that Ferdinand had won what turned out to be a rigged election, the Marcoses fled the Philippines for Honolulu. Corazon Aquino became president as thousands of Filipinos cheered.
February 22, 1987 – Artist Andy Warhol died following a routine gallbladder operation. He was credited with introducing America to the idea of “pop art” — art derived from popular culture, like his iconic painting of a Campbell’s soup can. “Once you thought pop,” he once said, “you could never see America the same way again.”
February 18, 1988 – Anthony Kennedy was sworn in as the 104th Justice of the Supreme Court. The New York Times, in a prescient observation, wrote “[he] is likely to be in a position to break tie votes.” President Reagan nominated Kennedy after the Senate rejected his first pick, Robert Bork, and his second pick withdrew his nomination.
February 14, 1989 – The first of 24 satellites that would make up the global positioning system — or GPS — was launched into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. President Reagan decreed that the developing system also would be made available for civilian use after Soviet fighter jets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007.
February 11, 1990 – Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa. “Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts,” Mandela told a cheering crowd in Cape Town. “To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not forgive.” It was his first public address since 1964.
February 27, 1991 – The Persian Gulf War ended after Iraqi troops retreated and U.S. troops marched into the Kuwaiti capital. “Coalition forces fought this war only as a last resort,” President George H. W. Bush said, “and look forward to the day when Iraq is led by people prepared to live in peace with their neighbors.”
February 27, 1992 – Sixteen-year-old Tiger Woods became the youngest PGA golfer at a tour event in 35 years. Two days before, Woods stands on the 9th tee, fantasizing: “… It's going to be like, 'Ladies and gentlemen, already 19 under par for 26 holes — just playing his normal game — the leader, Tiger Woods.'"
February 26-28, 1993 – The country experienced a spasm of terrorist violence. On the 26th, Islamic extremists exploded a truck bomb in the parking lot of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing six and injuring hundreds. Two days later, a gun fight breaks out in Waco, Texas, between the FBI and the home-grown sect Branch Davidians.
February 25, 1994 – Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was awarded the silver medal at the Lillehammer Olympics, seven weeks after the boyfriend of rival Tanya Harding whacked Kerrigan’s knee as she came out of practice. "I think I skated great," Kerrigan said. "I was happy, I was enjoying myself.” Harding, after breaking into tears on the ice, placed 8th.
February 13, 1995 – OJ Simpson and the jurors in his murder trial toured the affluent Brentwood neighborhood where the former football star and his wife once lived. Signs installed by court officials described what jurors were seeing in Simpson’s house and his ex-wife’s condo, but no one could talk to them, nor could they speak to each other.
February 29, 1996 – The Siege of Sarajevo ended after nearly four years. It was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. Bosnian Serbs continued to stream out of the city, leaving some neighborhoods ghost towns. “Everything is destroyed and the community is gone,” said machinist Doko Savic, 53.
February 23, 1997 - Scientists in Scotland announced they succeeded in cloning an adult mammal, producing a lamb named "Dolly." Jaws dropped on both sides of the Atlantic. “It’s unbelievable,” said Dr. Lee Silver, a biology professor at Princeton University. “It basically means there are no limits. It means all of science fiction is true.”
February 3, 1998 – Seattle police rapped on the windows of a steamed-up VW Beetle and found Mary Kay LeTourneau and her 14-year-old former student, Vili, inside. LeTourneau was on probation after serving three months jail time for statutory rape of the same minor. Returned to jail, she was now pregnant for the second time with Vili’s child.
February 18, 1999 – George Clooney exited the television drama "ER," where he had starred as Dr. Doug Ross. Dubbed “Doctor Dreamboat,” Clooney was a hit at the box office as well, commanding $10 million a movie. Said actress Conni Marie Brazelton, who played a nurse on the show, "ER" without Clooney “is like basketball without Michael Jordan.”
February 13, 2000 – The last original Peanuts Sunday strip appeared in newspapers around the country, one day after creator Charles Schulz died from cancer. “I have been fortunate to draw Charlie Brown and his friends for almost 50 years,” Schulz wrote in a message on the strip. “It has been a fulfillment of my childhood ambition.”
February 15 & 16, 2001 – The first draft of the complete human genome was published twice in two days, by rival groups of scientists in rival publications (first Nature, then Science). Scientists and the public alike are stunned to learn that humans only contain 30,000 genes — barely a third more than roundworms, which boast 19,000.
February 6, 2002 – Queen Elizabeth celebrated 50 years on the British throne. The most recent British monarch to celebrate a so-called Golden Jubilee was Queen Victoria. At age 76, Queen Elizabeth was the oldest monarch to do so. She and husband Prince Phillip celebrated for 12 months, attending festivities across the former British empire.
February 20, 2003 – A fire triggered by pyrotechnics in a Rhode Island nightclub killed 96 and injured 100 more. The blaze spread quickly in the crowded club, which lacked both sprinklers and sufficient exit doors. Trapped patrons screamed for their lives. The tragedy led to a change in fire codes nationwide.
February 1, 2004 – It’s the moment that coined the phrase “wardrobe malfunction.” Justin Timberlake snatched at Janet Jackson’s costume during a Super Bowl halftime show, ostensibly to reveal her red lace bra underneath. Instead, for nine-sixteenths of one second, out popped the entire breast, sporting silver nipple jewelry in the shape of a star.
February 15, 2005 – Three former PayPal employees activated the domain name for their new site: YouTube. The idea for a video-sharing site — founder Jawed Karim later told USA Today — came after he found it difficult to locate footage online for two recent events: the Asian tsunami, and the Janet Jackson Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction.”
February 12, 2006 – Vice President Dick Cheney, out hunting quail in Texas, accidentally shot a companion, Austin lawyer Harry Whittington, in the head, neck and chest. “Good news, ladies and gentlemen,” quipped comedian David Letterman, opening his Monday show two days later. “We have finally located weapons of mass destruction. It’s Dick Cheney.”
February 8, 2007 – Anna Nicole Smith died of a drug overdose. The former stripper turned Playboy centerfold made headlines 13 years earlier when she married an 89-year-old billionaire. His death plunged her into years of legal battles. At the time of her death, three men claimed to be the father of her baby girl.
February 27, 2008 – William F. Buckley Jr. died. The prolific writer and commentator “brought conservative thought into the political mainstream,” President George W. Bush eulogized. By his death at age 89, he had written more than 50 books. The 4.5 million words of his twice-weekly column would fill 45 more books, the New York Times estimates.
February 22, 2009 – The "Slumdog Millionaire" rags-to-riches trajectory was complete as it picked up eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film nearly went straight to DVD in America. “Most of all, we had passion and we had belief, and our film shows if you have those two things, you have everything,” producer Christian Colson said.
February 19, 2010 – Golfer Tiger Woods apologized for his behavior. “I had affairs. I cheated,” he said. “I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.” His wife, for one, doesn’t seem to have done so — she was nowhere in sight at his press conference.
February 2011 – The Middle East was in upheaval. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after weeks of protests and calls for his resignation, while crowds in Syria and Libya raised up against long-ruling dictators. Protests also erupted in Jordan and Yemen. “Egypt is free!” chanted crowds in Cairo. “The people have brought down the regime!”
February 5, 2012 – For the fourth time in six years, a Manning brother played in the Super Bowl. This time it was Eli’s turn, as the quarterback took home his second Super Bowl MVP award after leading his New Jersey Giants to a 21-17 win over the New England Patriots. “It was a wild game,” said Manning, “a wild season.”
February 11, 2013 – Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation at the end of the month. He would be the first pope to resign since 1415. His announcement, during a routine meeting to discuss canonization of three possible saints, came “like a bolt out of the blue,” one participant told the New York Times.