A Day of Improbabilities

It’s not improbable that the weekend will be great. Seasonally cool but generally sunny though there may be a few clouds Saturday night. We warm up Monday and then we get a big chill for the middle of next week. That’s not too improbable either given that its November.


On This Date In History: It is early November and that is Presidential election time every four years. On this date in 1948 one of the biggest improbabilities occurred with the re-election of President Harry S. Truman. I think most people know the story of how Truman had greatly trailed challenger Thomas Dewey in all of the polls leading up to election day. Truman embarked on a “whistle stop tour” of the nation in the final days to try and ramp up support by making stump speeches across the nation from the back of a rail car. On November 2, Truman voted in his home town of Independence Missouri and then headed to the Elms Hotel in Excelsior, Missouri to watch the returns. Early returns were not good for Truman and he went to bed thinking he had been defeated. Of course he won and the famous photo of him holding the Chicago Tribune with the headline of “Dewey Defeats Truman” over his head. The story behind that headline is little known.

There was a writers strike at the Tribune that night so many of the regulars on the staff were replaced by inexperienced people. The staff on hand got wind of the early returns and were aware of the polls. Deadline approached and they figured Truman would lose so they produced the headline. They wrote the front page and a few others using a typewriter. Instead of correcting errors, they simply put an “x” over the type-o’s or other errors. Five lines even appeared upside down. All copies of the newspaper went out to the public that way. Some think the nation’s political press has had it upside down ever since.

On this date a year earlier, Howard Hughes defied all probability. He had contracted with the U.S. Government to produce a flying boat that could ferry 750 combat troops or two 30 ton tanks across the Atlantic during World War II. Officially called the H-4 Hercules, the plane fell seemingly hopelessly behind construction schedule and well over budget. The war ended before delivery and the government cancelled the order.
But Hughes was convinced his vision could be transformed to civilian use and revolutionize the airline and air cargo industry. He completed the plane with his own money. Aluminum and other metals were short during the war so he made the plane out of wood. On this date in 1947, Hughes flew the flying boat near Long Beach in California, confounding critics who said such a huge machine could never fly. It never flew again as it was obsolete before it ever flew.

To this day, it still holds the record for aircraft with the broadest wingspan at 319 feet….more than a football field. It’s also the tallest plane ever built at over 79 feet, or about a 7 story building. It is the worlds largest flying boat and, of course, the record that will probably never be equaled; the largest plane ever built from wood. Many think of the thing as a lark but it is another in a long list of examples of Hughes genius for vision. Hughes exploits proved it was possible for enormous aircraft to fly and thus did indeed revolutionize flight design. Even though by weight and length other modern planes have been deemed the largest planes ever built, the “Spruce Goose,” as it was called by Hughes detractors, stands alone was one of the most daring an innovative steps in the history of flight.

Both of the events of this date in history show what can happen when determination, courage and self-confidence come together to render moot the opinions of the experts. Though Truman ended his second term with historically low poll numbers, his place in history is rising as analysts recognize the great strides that shaped the post war world begun during his term as President with such things as the creation of Israel and the beginnings of Civil Rights and desegregation. Hughes achievement was perhaps the crowning achievement in a remarkable life. We see him as the richest man in the world of his time but in reality, he was an innovator in aircraft and satellite technology. Many of our conveniences we take for granted are directly linked to Howard Hughes. Many of our missile defense systems had their genesis from Howard Hughes.

How Hughes died and how Truman left office have clouded their legacies. In both cases, their reach and vision far outdistanced their lifetime.

2 Responses

  1. I always thought HH kind of fascinating myself. I discard most of what I have heard and seen as so much gossup from others to make money. If you just look at his accomplishments, though, he was a pretty interesting fellow; personal quirks aside. If he had not been famous for other things no one would have paid much mind to his deviations from the “norm”. I have seen much stranger behavior on the streets of Louisville and no one is making movies or writing books about those people. lol


  2. […] election.  See, the election of the president is really done by the electors of each state and the District of Columbia is not a state so residents could Constitutionally vote for president.  The passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961 gave DC residents the vote and they exercised it for the first time in 1964, much to the delight of President Johnson who received their three electors.  Also, on this date in 1948, the Chicago Tribune famously proclaimed the demise of President Harry Truman.  You can read about how they came to make their infamous goof right here.   […]

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