On August 17

Time waits for no man, it merely marches on without reverence for plans, hopes, or dreams. When the sun rises in the morning, it’s impossible to know exactly what, a day will hold. Indeed, the only real certainty is that the sun will set again that evening. Though there have been far too many sunrises on August 17th to speak to every single event, here are some of the most influential moments that have occurred on this day throughout time. 

Famous Events on This Day in History 

On August 17, 1903, Joseph Pulitzer donated $1 million (an amount that today translates to more than $29 million with inflation) to Columbia University for the expressed purpose of establishing a School of Journalism, and thereby creating the Pulitzer Prizes

Today, the Pulitzer Prizes are a well-known hallmark of both journalism and literature, rewarding truly exceptional writing with repute and a monetary prize. At its conception, the Pulitzer Prize was meant to encourage good journalism by incentivizing strong reporting in an era prone to sensationalism (though this sort of “yellow journalism” isn’t something Pulitzer shied away from in times of poor circulation). 

Beyond establishing these prizes, Pulitzer felt it was important that journalists receive a college education—something that had not previously been commonplace for the profession. With Joseph Pulitzer’s generous endowment, Columbia University was able to establish their School of Journalism in 1912. Five years later, in 1917, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded. 

Joseph Pulitzer was a truly self-made man. Hailing from Hungary, this eventual magnate had a humble beginning. He started out as a newspaper reporter in St. Louis, eventually merging two of the major publications in that city to form the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In his later years, Pulitzer turned his attention to New York and became a professional rival of William Randolph Hearst. Whether it was Pulitzer’s disillusion with the path of the industry, or his belief that journalism is a truly noble and necessary profession that led him to leave a chunk of his fortune to Columbia University, the impact of that decision cannot be denied today. 

Each Spring, the reverberations of Pulitzers choice on this day, that year can be felt as the Pulitzer Prize winners are announced. This is a celebration of the written word at its highest caliber, and it wouldn’t be possible without Pulitzer’s donation all those years ago on this day. 

Some of the other impactful moments that occurred this day in history:

  • On this day in 1978, the first transatlantic balloon flight was completed by Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman. The trio departed from Presque Isle, Maine in a balloon called the Eagle II. They flew for 6 days before finally landing in a barley field about 50 miles West of Paris on the evening of August 17th. The team was blown slightly off course toward the end of their journey; they had intended to land in Le Bourget field in Paris, as Charles Lindbergh had upon completing the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927. 
  • Following a drawn out turn of events, this day in 1998 President Bill Clinton admitted to engaging in an “improper physical relationship” with intern Monica Lewinsky. Also on August 17th of that year, Clinton admitted to having misled the American people about the nature of his relationship with Lewinsky. Articles of impeachment were filed against Clinton following this revelation, though he was later acquitted and never removed from office. 
  • In 2008, Michael Phelps earned his eighth Gold Medal in the 2008 Olympics when he came first in the 4×100 meter medley relay race. This medal asserted the American champion swimmer as truly legendary on August 17th, as it broke the record for the most gold medals won by an athlete in a single Olympic Games; the record was previously held by another famed American swimmer, Mark Spitz. Phelps’ full list of Olympic Medals is truly expansive. 

Famous Birthdays on August 17th 

1786: Davy Crockett

Davy Crockett

Well known as a rough and tumble frontiersman, Davy Crockett was born on August 17th, 1786. The event for which he is perhaps most famous, the battle of the Alamo, is also the one that led to his demise in 1836 at the age of 39. Crockett climbed military ranks and forayed into politics before he engaged in that fateful battle. Crockett, along with a handful of others, was captured and executed when the Alamo fell. Richard Penn Smith published an account of Crockett’s life and death in the summer of 1836, and although it was riddled with creative licenses on Penn’s part, it did contain an accurate account of his death. 

1893: Mae West

A decade’s long American institution, Mae West was born August 17th, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York. She performed for the first time around age 8, and had taken on the Vaudeville circuit by 14. This early exposure to show biz may have influenced West’s easy attitude toward sexuality—something that was strictly taboo at the time. These conservative attitudes were the subject of ridicule in West’s own writing; she began to create, produce, and star in her own Broadway shows in the mid-20s. Mae West became an icon in the following decades as she moved her attention to Hollywood, and starred in a number of hit films. 

1943: Robert De Niro

Robert D Niro

Heralded as one of the greatest actors in history, Robert De Niro was born on this day in 1943. De Niro gained stardom around age 30 when he appeared in Bang The Drum Slowly. Since then, his iconic film performances have been too many to name, and have earned him four Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor. With roles ranging from deranged to comedic, there is no doubt that Robert De Niro can take on any character with ease. 

There is no way to know exactly what the future holds, but staying aware of the past’s historical moments, like these and others that have occurred on August 17th, is well within grasp.

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