In 1916 – (101 years ago) — in San Francisco, business leaders and the local chamber of commerce sponsored a “Preparedness Day parade” to cheer the entry of US troops into World War I. Labor leaders, radicals, and anarchists who opposed US participation in the faraway European war planned to protest the parade, and had been warned of possible mischief by provocateurs. Shortly after the parade got underway, a pipe bomb exploded in the middle of the crowd, killing ten people and wounding forty. Two locally prominent left-wing labor leaders, Thomas Mooney and Warren Billings, were among those arrested by police, and were held for six days without being allowed to see a lawyer. In defiance of loud protests by labor and civil liberties activists, both men were soon found guilty — their death sentences later commuted to life imprisonment. More than twenty years later, a state commission found that their trial had been marred by false testimony and other irregularities, some of which were publicly admitted by the trial judge and jurors. Mooney and Billings were released from prison in 1939 and later pardoned. To this day, the real perpetrators of the San Francisco bombing remain unknown.
In 1962 – (55 years ago) — at Cape Canaveral, Florida, a rocket was launched carrying the spacecraft Mariner 1, intended to be the first to fly near the planet Venus. Soon after launch, the rocket veered off course and stopped responding to guidance commands sent from the ground. Fearful that it might come down and hit a populated area, mission controllers sent a command for the rocket to self-destruct, which it did. Analysts later found that a computer programmer who transcribed guidance software for the rocket had unwittingly introduced a typo, which science writer Arthur C. Clarke later called “the most expensive hyphen in history.” Five weeks later, a second launch sent the Mariner 2 spacecraft to a successful Venus flyby, where it measured hellish temperatures on that planet’s surface of nine hundred degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to melt lead.