January 5th

George Reeves was born in 1914 on January 5th. He was Miss Scarlett’s beau in Gone with the Wind, but is known now of course for playing Superman on TV 1952-1958. IMDb lists 78 credits. Reeves committed suicide at age 45 (some say he was murdered by his lover’s husband).

Jane Wyman was born on January 5th in 1917. She won the best actress Oscar in 1949 for her performance in Johnny Belinda; she had three other best actress nominations. Ms. Wyman died in 2007. She was married five times to four men (one being Ronald Reagan 1940-1949), but unmarried during the last 42 years of her life. Her real name was Sarah Jane Mayfield; Wyman was her first married name.

Sam Phillips was born near Florence, Alabama, on this date in 1923. He died in 2003.

If Sam Phillips had discovered only Elvis Presley, he would have earned his rightful place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But his Sun Records label was also an early home to Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Howlin’ Wolf and more of rock and roll’s greatest talents. Sun produced more rock and roll records than any other label of its time. They included the songs that served as the foundation for rock and roll, such as Elvis Presley’s first five singles (beginning with “That’s All Right” b/w “Blue Moon of Kentucky” in 1954), Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.”

But there was much, much more: Bill Justis’ aptly titled sax instrumental “Raunchy,” a national Top Three hit; some of Roy Orbison’s earliest recordings, including “Ooby Dooby”; the rockabilly classic “Flying Saucers Rock and Roll,” by Billy Lee Riley; the first pop hit, “Lonely Weekends,” for pianist Charlie Rich; and such high-charting R&B entries as Rufus Thomas’s “Bear Cat.” It is a testimony to Phillips’ ecumenical, color-blind vision of American music that a song like “Breathless,” by Jerry Lee Lewis, could make the Top Ten on the pop, country and R&B charts alike.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

King Camp Gillette was born on this date in 1855.

At the age of 17, Gillette became a traveling salesman, who made improvement to his wares as well as selling them. By 1890, he had earned four patents. More importantly, he had learned from the President of his company that disposable items made for big sales.

On the road, Gillette used to shave every morning with a Star Safety Razor: that is, a heavy, wedge-shaped blade fitted perpendicularly into its handle. It would have been downright dangerous, in the lavatory of a rumbling train, for Gillette to shave with the type of straight razor used by most men at the time. However, the safety razor did share a major shortcoming with standard razors: the blade had to be sharpened frequently on a leather strop; and even so, the blade eventually became too worn to sharpen.

One morning in 1895, Gillette, now living in Boston, had a revelation: if he could put a sharp edge on a small square of sheet steel, he could market a safety razor blade that could be thrown away when it grew dull, and readily replaced. Gillette visited metallurgists at MIT, who assured him his idea was impossible. It took Gillette six years to find an engineer, William Emery Nickerson (an MIT-trained inventor), who could produce the blade Gillette wanted.

In 1901, Gillette and Nickerson formed the American Safety Razor Company (soon thereafter renamed for Gillette himself). For the first time, razor blades would be sold in multiple packages, with the razor handle a one-time purchase. Production began in 1903; Gillette won a patent for his product the next year.

Excerpted from Inventor of the Week: Archive — MIT

Stephen Decatur was born in Sinepuxent, Maryland, on January 5th in 1779. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1798.

At the age of 25, Decatur became the most striking figure of the Tripolitan Wars. On February 16, 1804, Decatur led 74 volunteers into Tripoli harbor to burn the captured American frigate Philadelphia. British Admiral Lord Nelson is said to have called the raid “the most bold and daring act of the age.” Raised to the rank of captain, Decatur was the youngest captain in the American navy.

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Decatur was the commanding officer of the frigate United States, which he had served aboard as a midshipman. As commander of the ship, he defeated and captured the British frigate Macedonian in October 1812. He brought the vessel safely back to the United States. It was the only British ship to be refitted and commissioned in the American navy during the war. Early in 1815 he was commodore of a three-ship squadron, when his flagship, the President, while running the British blockade, struck bottom. The damaged ship was unable to escape the blockading squadron and was captured.

In 1815, Decatur commanded a nine-ship squadron headed for Mediterranean to end the cruising of Algerian corsairs against American shipping. Decatur’s abilities as a negotiator were recognized after he secured a treaty with the Algerians. During celebration of the peace with the North African state, Decatur declared his famous line: “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be right; but our country right or wrong.”

Decatur was noted not only for his brilliant Navy career, but also for his involvement in duels, which was how men of honor settled disputes in his day. On March 22, 1820, he was killed in a duel with Commodore James Barron. Barron was court-martialed for surrendering his ship to a British man-of-war in 1807. This surrender was one of the major events leading to the War of 1812. When Barron returned to the United States after the war, he had intentions of resuming his naval service but met much criticism, especially from Commodore Decatur. Barron was severely wounded in his leg but fired the shot that ended Decatur’s life.

Naval History & Heritage Command

Zebulon Pike was born in Lamberton, New Jersey, on January 5th in 1779. In 1806-1807:

Zebulon Pike sets out on an expedition to make peace among the Pawnee in Nebraska and explore the headwaters of the Arkansas River. His mission takes him into Colorado, where on Thanksgiving Day he and his party try unsuccessfully to climb the peak that bears his name.

Crossing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Zebulon Pike comes to the Rio Grande, which he mistakes for the Red River. Here he builds an outpost and is discovered by a Spanish patrol, which takes him first to Santa Fe, then into Mexico, and finally to the Tejas border near Natchitoches, Louisiana, where he re-enters the United States in June. After reporting on Spanish forces and settlements in the Southwest, Pike publishes an account of his expedition which makes him a national celebrity.

PBS: New Perspectives on the West

Pikes Peak ranks 32nd among Rocky Mountain summits.

Henry Ford announced a minimum wage of $5 day as part of a larger benefits package on January 5, 1914.

To run the factory continuously instead of only eighteen hours a day, giving employment to several thousand more men by employing three shifts of eight hours each, instead of only two nine-hour shifts, as at present.

To establish a minimum wage scale of $5 per day. Even the boy who sweeps up the floors will get that much.

Before any man in any department of the company who does not seem to be doing good work shall be discharged, an opportunity will be given to him to try to make good in every other department. No man shall be discharged except for proved unfaithfulness or irremediable inefficiency.

The New York Times

George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow with two children, on January 5, 1759. She was 27, he was nearly 27.