This week in history: Oct. 12-18

Caitlyn Dieckmann and Fiona O’Dowd-White

[email protected] 

[email protected] 

Oct. 12, 1492: Columbus lands in New World 

     The U.S. holiday declared on Oct. 12 is known as Columbus Day to commemorate navigator Christopher Columbus’ landing in Guanahaní, the island that would later be called San Salvador, in the Bahamas.  

     However, the day is marked by controversy, given Columbus’ violence against and enslavement of indigenous peoples, forced conversions to Christianity and introduction of new diseases that would affect natives across the Americas tremendously. Protests against Columbus Day have gained traction since the 1990s, causing several states to adopt this day as “Indigenous People’s Day.” 

Illustration of Columbus’ first encounter with Indigenous people.
Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library.

     Oct. 13, 1775: U.S. Continental Navy created 

     In 1775, the Continental Navy was born, consisting then of only two ships and 80 men. Today, however, the U.S. Navy is considered the strongest in the world, carrying 40 naval bases across the country.  

     Oct. 14, 1964: MLK Jr. wins Nobel Peace Prize 

     Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his urging of nonviolent resistance to racial injustice during the Civil Rights era. He was the youngest person to ever receive the award. Near the fracturing end of the movement, King intended to organize a “poor people’s march” on Washington to revive the nonviolent approach, although he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.  

     Oct. 15, 1989: Wayne Gretzky becomes all-time leading points scorer in the NHL 

     Wayne Gretzky played hockey for the Los Angeles Kings in the 1980s. He broke the all-time leading points record in 1989 when playing against the Oilers, at the age of 28. He went on to play 10 more years before retiring, accumulating a total of 2,857 points.  

     Oct. 16, 1916: Margaret Sanger opens birth control clinic in the U.S.  

     In the early 1900s, both birth control and abortion were illegal under the federal Comstock Act, which deemed contraceptives to be “obscene and illicit.” However, in 1916, sex educator Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in New York City. It was shut down after only 10 days for violation of the Comstock Act, but it paved the way for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which Sanger led.  

     Oct. 17, 1931: Al Capone convicted on Tax evasion 

     Former mobster Al Capone, nicknamed “Scarface,” was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for tax evasion. He had reached the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list by 1930, avoiding prison up until this point as he grew his bootlegging enterprise during prohibition. 

     Oct. 18, 1898: U.S. annexes Puerto Rico 

     Taking control of the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico, U.S. troops fighting in the Spanish-American war raised their flag in 1898. Spain formally ceded the territory under the Treaty of Paris of 1898, which went into effect the next year, but Puerto Ricans would not become U.S. citizens until 1917 under the Jones Act.