August 22, 1950: Althea Gibson becomes first African-American on U.S. tennis tour

On this day in 1950, officials of the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) accept Althea Gibson into their annual championship at Forest Hills, New York, making her the first African-American player to compete in a U.S. national tennis competition.

Growing up in Harlem, the young Gibson was a natural athlete. She started playing tennis at the age of 14 and the very next year won her first tournament, the New York State girls’ championship, sponsored by the American Tennis Association (ATA), which was organized in 1916 by black players as an alternative to the exclusively white USLTA. After prominent doctors and tennis enthusiasts Hubert Eaton and R. Walter Johnson took Gibson under their wing, she won her first of what would be 10 straight ATA championships in 1947.

In 1949, Gibson attempted to gain entry into the USLTA’s National Grass Court Championships at Forest Hills, the precursor of the U.S. Open. When the USLTA failed to invite her to any qualifying tournaments, Alice Marble–a four-time winner at Forest Hills–wrote a letter on Gibson’s behalf to the editor of American Lawn Tennis magazine. Marble criticized the “bigotry” of her fellow USLTA members, suggesting that if Gibson posed a challenge to current tour players, “it’s only fair that they meet this challenge on the courts.” Gibson was subsequently invited to participate in a New Jersey qualifying event, where she earned a berth at Forest Hills.

On August 28, 1950, Gibson beat Barbara Knapp 6-2, 6-2 in her first USLTA tournament match. She lost a tight match in the second round to Louise Brough, three-time defending Wimbledon champion. Gibson struggled over her first several years on tour but finally won her first major victory in 1956, at the French Open in Paris. She came into her own the following year, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open at the relatively advanced age of 30.

Gibson repeated at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open the next year but soon decided to retire from the amateur ranks and go pro. At the time, the pro tennis league was poorly developed, and Gibson at one point went on tour with the Harlem Globetrotters, playing tennis during halftime of their basketball games. In the early 1960s, Gibson became the first black player to compete on the women’s golf tour, though she never won a tournament. She was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971.

Though she once brushed off comparisons to Jackie Robinson, the trailblazing black baseball player, Gibson has been credited with paving the way for African-American tennis champions such as Arthur Ashe and, more recently, Venus and Serena Williams. After a long illness, she died in 2003 at the age of 76.

August 21, 1959: Hawaii becomes 50th state

The modern United States receives its crowning star when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs a proclamation admitting Hawaii into the Union as the 50th state. The president also issued an order for an American flag featuring 50 stars arranged in staggered rows: five six-star rows and four five-star rows. The new flag became official July 4, 1960.

The first known settlers of the Hawaiian Islands were Polynesian voyagers who arrived sometime in the eighth century. In the early 18th century, American traders came to Hawaii to exploit the islands’ sandalwood, which was much valued in China at the time. In the 1830s, the sugar industry was introduced to Hawaii and by the mid 19th century had become well established. American missionaries and planters brought about great changes in Hawaiian political, cultural, economic, and religious life. In 1840, a constitutional monarchy was established, stripping the Hawaiian monarch of much of his authority.

In 1893, a group of American expatriates and sugar planters supported by a division of U.S. Marines deposed Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. One year later, the Republic of Hawaii was established as a U.S. protectorate with Hawaiian-born Sanford B. Dole as president. Many in Congress opposed the formal annexation of Hawaii, and it was not until 1898, following the use of the naval base at Pearl Harbor during the Spanish-American War, that Hawaii’s strategic importance became evident and formal annexation was approved. Two years later, Hawaii was organized into a formal U.S. territory. During World War II, Hawaii became firmly ensconced in the American national identity following the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

In March 1959, the U.S. government approved statehood for Hawaii, and in June the Hawaiian people voted by a wide majority to accept admittance into the United States. Two months later, Hawaii officially became the 50th state.

August 20, 1911: First around-the-world telegram sent, 66 years before Voyager II launch

On this day in 1911, a dispatcher in the New York Times office sends the first telegram around the world via commercial service. Exactly 66 years later, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sends a different kind of message–a phonograph record containing information about Earth for extraterrestrial beings–shooting into space aboard the unmanned spacecraft Voyager II.

The Times decided to send its 1911 telegram in order to determine how fast a commercial message could be sent around the world by telegraph cable. The message, reading simply “This message sent around the world,” left the dispatch room on the 17th floor of the Times building in New York at 7 p.m. on August 20. After it traveled more than 28,000 miles, being relayed by 16 different operators, through San Francisco, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, Bombay, Malta, Lisbon and the Azores–among other locations–the reply was received by the same operator 16.5 minutes later. It was the fastest time achieved by a commercial cablegram since the opening of the Pacific cable in 1900 by the Commercial Cable Company.

On August 20, 1977, a NASA rocket launched Voyager II, an unmanned 1,820-pound spacecraft, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was the first of two such crafts to be launched that year on a “Grand Tour” of the outer planets, organized to coincide with a rare alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Aboard Voyager II was a 12-inch copper phonograph record called “Sounds of Earth.” Intended as a kind of introductory time capsule, the record included greetings in 60 languages and scientific information about Earth and the human race, along with classical, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll music, nature sounds like thunder and surf, and recorded messages from President Jimmy Carter and other world leaders.

The brainchild of astronomer Carl Sagan, the record was sent with Voyager II and its twin craft, Voyager I–launched just two weeks later–in the faint hope that it might one day be discovered by extraterrestrial creatures. The record was sealed in an aluminum jacket that would keep it intact for 1 billion years, along with instructions on how to play the record, with a cartridge and needle provided.

More importantly, the two Voyager crafts were designed to explore the outer solar system and send information and photographs of the distant planets to Earth. Over the next 12 years, the mission proved a smashing success. After both crafts flew by Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager I went flying off towards the solar system’s edge while Voyager II visited Uranus, Neptune and finally Pluto in 1990 before sailing off to join its twin in the outer solar system.

Thanks to the Voyager program, NASA scientists gained a wealth of information about the outer planets, including close-up photographs of Saturn’s seven rings; evidence of active geysers and volcanoes exploding on some of the four planets’ 22 moons; winds of more than 1,500 mph on Neptune; and measurements of the magnetic fields on Uranus and Neptune. The two crafts are expected to continue sending data until 2020, or until their plutonium-based power sources run out. After that, they will continue to sail on through the galaxy for millions of years to come, barring some unexpected collision.