What Happened on May 15?

  • The USSR began to withdraw from Afghanistan. (1988) Soviet troops had been occupying Afghanistan for over eight years with nothing much to show for it, and it was becoming too great of a drain on the already precarious finances of the USSR. The withdrawal was also beneficial politically, since it has been a sticking point between the US and USSR many times during the Cold War.

  • The first airplane stewardess went on duty. (1930) Ellen Church was actually certified as a pilot, but went on duty as the first airplane stewardess on this day on a US Airways flight from Oakland, California, to Chicago, Illinois. Early stewardesses did much more than pass out drinks though — they also acted as luggage loaders, made small repairs to the plane, and even helped push the plane back into the hangar at the end of flights.

  • A train disaster was averted in Ohio. (2001) A runaway train carrying hazardous materials went for almost 70 miles (about 112 km) before a railroad employee jumped onto the moving train and stopped it — all on live TV.

  • The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was founded. (1869) Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the organization for suffragists on this day, and it quickly became one of the most influential voices for women's rights in the country.

  • Gasoline rationing went into effect in 17 US states. (1942) States began voluntary gasoline rationing to help with the American war effort in World War II; by the end of the year, President Franklin Roosevelt made the rationing mandatory across the US.

  • The Seven Years War began. (1756) Known in America as the French and Indian War, the Seven Years War was a global conflict between the British and French that took place mostly in their respective colonial holdings. It finally ended in 1763 with France ceding most of its territory in America to Britain.

  • The first machine gun was patented. (1718) Named the Puckle Gun after its inventor, James Puckle, the gun could fire up to 63 rounds in seven minutes, whereas previous guns could only get out one round about every three minutes. The Puckle Gun was also capable of firing square bullets.

  • The Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) was created. (1942) The WAACs were the first women to have official military status, and did everything from operate radios to work as air-traffic controllers.

  • Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Gachet became the most expensive painting in the world. (1990) The painting sold for $82.5 million US Dollars (USD), the most any painting had ever sold for to date. It remained the most expensive painting in the world until Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I beat it in 2006, selling for $135 million USD.

  • The first Mickey Mouse cartoon was produced. (1928) The first cartoon to feature Mickey Mouse was Plane Crazy, though Steamboat Willy was the first to be released, since it did better with test audiences.

Discussion Comments


May fifteenth has some really interesting tidbits, especially with bullet point number three. While I had never heard of this train disaster, it's good to know that the incident was averted, and that everything turned out all right in the end. I can't believe someone was brave enough to stop it, though.


Not only do I remember learning about the WAAC when I was in high school, but even more so, I'm really glad that women got to play a part in the military. In that day and age where their rights were limited, it was a crucial moment, and certainly a step forward. Working on radios and operating air-traffic was only the beginning for them.


In relation to the last bullet point, Mickey Mouse is the one who started it all. Whether you love him or hate him, whoever thought that a simple idea would game such popularity? One thing I really enjoy about the earlier (Mickey Mouse) cartoons is that there wasn't a lot of dialogue. The stories carried themselves through the situations.

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