This Week In History: April 18-24 

San Francisco in ruins, waterfront in foreground, with sunset over Golden Gate in background, looking from 2,000 feet (610 m) above San Francisco Bay. Market Street leads directly away from Ferry Building tower, center foreground, towards Twin Peaks, center-left background. Photo courtesy of George R. Lawrence/Wikimedia Commons

With Earth Day just a few short days away, this week in history, we will take a look at six events in modern history from various destinations around the world that marked significant moments in our shared political, social and cultural past. Some are big and some are small, yet they all play a part in the vast story of the human experience. So let’s dive in! 

On April 18, 1906, 116 years ago, the Great San Francisco earthquake devastated the City by the Bay in northern California. 

While every city faces natural disasters at some point in their history, no American city knows earthquakes quite like those on the California coast. Despite its ideal climate and tremendous Pacific views, the San Andreas Fault has been a thorn in the Golden State’s side, claiming several lives over the past few centuries. 

In 1906, San Francisco was a bustling, booming city, shaping up to be one of the biggest metropolises west of the Mississippi, with a thriving business district to show for it. That all came crumbling down when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the city at 5:13 a.m. Brick buildings crumbled and wooden structures became engulfed in flames. With the tremors destroying the city’s water infrastructure system, firefighters were helpless to contain the fire, which raged on for three days, expanding block by block. In the end, city officials resulted to dynamite, bombing buildings before the fire arrived so it could be trapped without any more buildings to consume. When the smoke cleared, more than 3,000 lives were lost, 200,000 were left homeless and 500 city streets were reduced to rubble.  

Though the city would rebuild and continue to grow as the 20th century progressed, it would take a second deadly earthquake in 1989 to show the city that earthquakes were a fact of San Francisco life, and they needed to build smarter if they were to survive and thrive. 

On April 24, 1916, 106 years ago, the anti-British Easter Rebellion began in Dublin, Ireland. 

The Emerald Isle has a long and complicated past with its next door neighbor, the United Kingdom. While the British Empire is known as the colonizer of the United States, Canada, India, Australia and South Africa — just to name a few — many people forget that the first nation the British conquered was right in their backyard. 

While the Welsh and Scottish faced a similar fate at the hands of the English, the Irish were the black sheep of the British Isles, facing intense political and cultural discrimination because of their loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church, while Britain embraced the Protestant Reformation. Irish Catholic lands were seized and given to Protestants in the 18th century, and Britain did little to help during the devastating years of the Potato Famine in the 19th century. Suffice to say, the Irish hated the British and wanted to be an independent nation. 

British soldiers behind an improvised barricade of barrels during the Easter Rising, 1916. Photo courtesy of Encyclopædia Britannica

The so-called Easter Rebellion (which began on Easter Monday), led by several Irish nationalist militant leaders, saw the occupation of many British government buildings in the capital city of Dublin. Within 24 hours, the organizations effectively occupied a majority of the city, including the General Post Office. A British counter-offensive would reclaim the city before the end of the month, with the rebellion leaders effectively executed soon after. These men would become martyrs for an Irish free state, and their uprising would be seen as an important milestone in the fight for Irish independence. 

Five years later, 26 counties were declared a part of the newly formed Irish Free State, and in 1949, Ireland officially became an independent republic. Today, six counties of northeastern Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom, effectively known as Northern Ireland, and the question still looms whether this territory should be returned to independent Ireland to reunite the island conquered hundreds of years ago. 

On April 18, 1956, 66 years ago, American actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Monaco-Ville, Monaco. 

Before there was Harry and Meghan, William and Kate or even Charles and Diana, there was Princess Grace and the heir to the throne of one of the smallest nations in the world. Their union was a tremendously “modern” affair, as Kelly was far from one of the noble-born aristocrats who were usually married off to royal princes. The Academy Award-winner and Philadelphia-native was the closest thing, however, to an American princess, meeting her prince while shooting “To Catch a Thief” in the French Riviera. Their extravagant wedding was publicized worldwide as a modern fairy tale come true.  

This joyous tale, however, would come to a screeching halt when Princess Grace died in a car crash in 1982 at the age of 52, survived by her husband and three children. Despite her brief life, Kelly would be remembered as one of the greatest actresses of classic Hollywood, as well as an icon of fashion, style and philanthropy. 

On April 22, 1970, 52 years ago, the first Earth Day was celebrated in the United States. 

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon plant a tree on the White House South Lawn to recognize the first Earth Day. Photo courtesy of White House Photo Office/Wikimedia Commons

After many years of advocacy from environmentalists, college students and Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day came to fruition as a day to raise awareness for the nation and the world’s environmental problems. While businesses and factories were booming in the years after World War II, there were very few regulations imposed by the government to limit harm on the environment. Environmental protection was one of many causes championed in the 1960s,  and Senator Nelson fought to make his cause a household name in America by establishing a holiday in its honor. 

Earth Day succeeded in its mission of bringing about change. In July of that same year, the Environmental Protection Agency, better known as the EPA, was established to enforce pollution legislation. The passage of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act followed throughout the course of the 1970s. 

Today, the Earth Day still serves as a catalyst for change, with many environmentalists and university students still utilizing the holiday to increase environmental awareness, particularly in the face of the current climate crisis. 

On April 24, 1982, 40 years ago, Jane Fonda released her first at-home workout video.

The second Academy Award-winning actress on our list doubles as a fitness guru rather than a princess. As silly as it may seem, Fonda very well may be the reason why you schlep to the gym every morning to stay in the best shape possible. Physical fitness, while always important, is relatively new in the way we think of it today. Previous generations stayed healthy because their work often required physical labor, so scheduled workouts were hardly necessary nor popular. By the post-WWII years, however, most Americans worked in the office instead of in the fields, and therefore needed a way to stay active and fit. While gymnasiums existed at training facilities and schools, the home gym grew in popularity with Fonda’s trailblazing at-home aerobics. 

Her Hollywood fame and new-age fitness movement sold more copies of her workouts than ever imagined, making leg warmers a fashion statement of the 1980s. Fonda’s tapes brought about the birth of the fitness and exercise industry, which thrives to this day. 

On April 21, 1989, 33 years ago, university students began pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Bejing, China. 

Six days after the passing of Hu Yaobang, the reform-minded leader of the Communist Party of China who was removed from office, 100,000 students organized in the central square of China’s capital city to mourn his loss and advocate for democratic reforms, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, petitioning a meeting with the current leader of the authoritarian regime to address such concerns. 

The protests continued for more than a month, bringing together hundreds of thousands of students, workers, intellectuals and other everyday citizens daily. With peace talks stalled in early June, the Chinese government ordered its military to clear the square at all costs, resulting in the murder of hundreds of protestors and the arrest of thousands more. An unknown number of dissenters were executed in the following months and all talks about a more-democratic China were effectively ended. 

The protests and subsequent massacre captured global attention, with several nations imposing economic sanctions on China for months after the incident. Though the Chinese government continues to suppress information and testimonies from this event, it remains a modern historical marker of the firm grip of Chinese communism being threatened by everyday people. 

That’s all for now! Happy Earth Day to all and to all a good week! 

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