Nikola Tesla revolutionized the way we use electricity, telephones, and radio waves – all without ever successfully graduating from a university. We remember Tesla’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who were born this day in history.
Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) revolutionized the way we use electricity, telephones, and radio waves – all without ever successfully graduating from a university. His genius was unparalleled, as were his “eccentricities,” and in later life, Tesla came to embody the literary archetype of the “mad scientist.” Tesla, the namesake of the Tesla Roadster all-electric sports car, continues to turn up in popular culture as a cause célèbre among history buffs or as a mysterious member of outlandish tales put forth by UFO enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists. But the real Tesla is far more interesting than any fiction. We remember Tesla’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who were born this day in history.
1980: Adam Petty, U.S. NASCAR driver whose death in a crash prompted NASCAR to require a kill switch on the steering wheel of each car, is born in Trenton, New Jersey.
1959: Sandy West, U.S. singer-songwriter and drummer who was a founding member of the rock band the Runaways, is born in Long Beach, California.
West was only 16 when she started the Runaways in 1975 with Joan Jett, a singer and guitarist. Along with band members Lita Ford and Cherie Currie, they had such hits as “Cherry Bomb” and “Born To Be Bad.” “We shared the dream of girls playing rock and roll. Sandy was an exuberant and powerful drummer,” Jett said in a statement at the time of West’s death. “I am overcome from the loss of my friend. I always told her we changed the world.” Read more
1948: John Whitehead, U.S. singer-songwriter who was one-half of the duo McFadden & Whitehead, who had a hit with 1979’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1945: Ron Glass, U.S. actor best known for his role as Detective Harris on the sitcom “Barney Miller,” is born in Evansville, Indiana.
1943: Arthur Ashe, U.S. tennis player who remains the only black man to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open, is born in Richmond, Virginia.
When tennis star Arthur Ashe announced in 1992 that he was battling HIV – and then died less than a year later – his illness seemed to overshadow his illustrious career. Contracted from blood transfusions he received during heart surgery, Ashe’s HIV lingered for years before it became too prominent to hide, at which point USA Today picked up on the story and broke the news. Ashe spent the rest of his time on Earth attempting to educate the public on a disease that was not yet well understood. Read more
1942: Ronnie James Dio, U.S. singer-songwriter who was the frontman for heavy metal bands including Dio, Rainbow, and Black Sabbath, is born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Dio rose to fame in 1975 as the first lead singer of Rainbow, the heavy metal band put together by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, who had just quit Deep Purple. Dio then replaced legendary vocalist Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath in 1980 with the critically acclaimed album “Heaven and Hell,” considered by many critics to be one of the finest heavy metal albums of all time. His on-again, off-again tenure with Black Sabbath touched off an intense debate among fans as to which singer was the true essence of the band – a discussion that lasted until his death. Read more
1938: Lee Morgan, U.S. jazz trumpeter who played with Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, and more, is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1935: Tura Satana, U.S. actress known best for her starring role in “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”, is born in Hokkaido, Japan.
In “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill”, Satana played Varla, the leader of a trio of thrill-seeking go-go dancers who kills a man with her bare hands. The women then set out to rob a wealthy older man who lives on a desert ranch with his two sons. Meyer has said the movie was an “absolute loser” when released but was rediscovered by the 1990s. It has since been shown at film festivals and art house cinemas. Read more
In a tribute posted online by the nonprofit Sesame Workshop, Nelson was lauded for his artistry and the “laughter he brought to children worldwide” with the Count and other Muppet puppets including Sherlock Hemlock, Herry Monster, and the Amazing Mumford. Nelson was part of other projects featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets, including the 1984 movie “The Muppets Take Manhattan” and TV series including the 1980s’ “Fraggle Rock” and 1990s’ “Muppets Tonight.” Read more
1931: Nick Adams, U.S. actor who starred on TV’s “The Rebel,” is born in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania.
1929: George Clayton Johnson, U.S. science fiction author and screenwriter who wrote for the “Star Trek” TV series and co-wrote the book “Logan’s Run,” is born in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
1926: Fred Gwynne, U.S. actor known best for starring roles on “The Munsters” and “Car 54, Where Are You?”, is born in New York, New York.
Gwynne’s biggest role was one that rendered him virtually unrecognizable. Wearing 50 pounds of padding, elevator shoes to add 4 inches to his already-considerable 6-foot-5 frame, full face makeup and a square wig, Gwynne became Herman Munster, the genial patriarch of TV’s “The Munsters.” Another actor might resent being remembered primarily as a made-up monster, but not Gwynne. As he said of the character years later, “… I might as well tell you the truth. I love old Herman Munster. Much as I try not to, I can’t stop liking that fellow.” Read more
1922: Jake LaMotta, Boxing legend whom Robert De Niro portrayed in the film “Raging Bull,” is born in The Bronx, New York.
1921: Eunice Kennedy Shriver, U.S. activist who founded the Special Olympics and was the sister of President John F. Kennedy and Sens. Robert F. and Edward M. Kennedy, is born in Brookline, Massachusetts.
A 1960 Chicago Tribune profile of the women in then-candidate JFK’s family said Shriver was “generally credited with being the most intellectual and politically minded of all the Kennedy women.” When her brother was in the White House, she pressed for efforts to help troubled young people and people with mental disabilities. And in 1968, she started what would become the world’s largest athletic competition for children and adults with mental disabilities. Now, more than 1 million athletes in more than 160 countries participate in Special Olympics meets each year. Read more
1921: Harvey Ball, U.S. commercial artist who created the smiley face, is born in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Ball came up with a smiley face on a bright yellow background. The original design consisted only of a grinning mouth but Ball, realizing the button could easily be inverted to send the wrong (i.e., “frowny”) message, decided to add eyeballs. The left eye was deliberately created slightly smaller than the right in order to humanize the drawing through its imperfection. The design took him less than 10 minutes to complete. He was paid $45 for his work. Neither Ball nor the insurance company bothered to copyright the creation. In an interview with the Telegram & Gazette, Harvey’s son Charles Ball said his father never regretted the missed revenue opportunity. “He was not a money-driven guy,” said Charles. Read more
1920: David Brinkley, U.S. broadcast journalist who co-anchored “The Huntley-Brinkley Report’ and “NBC Nightly News,” and served as the host of “This Week With David Brinkley,” is born in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Based in Washington and focusing on politics, Brinkley was known for his gentlemanly manner, wry wit and, as the Clinton incident illustrated, occasional suffer-no-fools bluntness. Playing against such refinement were a boyish appearance and a jerky style of delivery that suggested a mild case of hiccups. “If I was to start today I probably couldn’t get a job,” Brinkley once said, “because I don’t look like what people think an anchorperson should look like.” Perhaps not. But in 1956, his distinctive presence was paired with craggy, leading-man-handsome Chet Huntley for NBC News’ coverage of the Democratic and Republican national conventions. It was a perfect fit. Read more
1917: Reg Smythe, English cartoonist who created the comic strip “Andy Capp,” is born in Hartlepool, England.
1917: Don Herbert, U.S. television host who was the star of “Watch Mr. Wizard” and “Mr. Wizard’s World,” is born in Waconia, Minnesota.
In “Watch Mr. Wizard,” which was produced from 1951 to 1964 and received a Peabody Award in 1954, Herbert turned TV into an entertaining classroom. On a simple, workshop-like set, he demonstrated experiments using household items. “He modeled how to predict and measure and analyze. … The show today might seem slow but it was in-depth and forced you to think along,” said former colleague Steve Jacobs. “You were learning about the forces of nature.” Herbert encouraged children to duplicate experiments at home, said Jacobs, who recounted serving as a behind-the-scenes “science sidekick” to Herbert on the ’80s “Mr. Wizard’s World” that aired on the Nickelodeon channel. Read more
1914: Joe Shuster, Canadian-American comic book artist who co-created “Superman,” is born in Toronto, Ontario.
1897: John Gilbert, U.S. film actor who was a popular leading man of the silent era, is born in Logan, Utah.
1871: Marcel Proust, French author well-known for his novel “Remembrance of Things Past,” is born in Auteuil, France.
1839: Adolphus Busch, German brewer who co-founded Anheuser-Busch, is born in Mainz, Germany.
1804: Emma Smith, U.S. religious leader who was the first wife of Mormonism founder Joseph Smith and the first president of the Ladies’ Relief Society of Nauvoo, is born in Harmony Township, Pennsylvania.
1509: John Calvin, French theologian who was a leader of the Calvinism movement, is born in Noyon, France.