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What in the World? October History Lessons You Can Teach at Home (Part 2)

by David Engle | Oct 13, 2020 | 8 min read

This is a fascinating world we live in. When you step back and look at it, something historic has happened literally every single day. Sure, some events are bigger and more important than others, but think about it…history is made every day.

In this new, regular blog series, we’re going to look at world history by month, with two blog posts each month that list momentous events in the history of the world–and inspiration for lessons that you can teach your children at home!

We already took a look at the first half of October, so let’s finish up the month!

October 19, 1781: General Cornwallis surrenders to George Washington as Americans defeat the British at Yorktown.
British General Lord Cornwallis had previous success against General George Washington, having driven American troops from New Jersey in 1776. Washington would have the final word, however, as Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington and the Americans, effectively ending the American Revolution. There are so many potential lessons to teach from this event: great generals in the history of the military, the Revolutionary War, George Washington himself, and the Battle of Yorktown specifically.

October 19, 1987: Dow Jones suffers the largest-ever crash as the stock market plunges on Black Monday.
If someone were to ask you when the largest single-day stock market crash took place, you (and many, many others) would probably say 1929–the start of the Great Depression. Interesting fact–that’s actually incorrect. The largest-ever one-day stock market crash actually occurred on October 19, 1987 in what is now known as Black Monday. Wall Street had been riding high thanks to President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies, but many suspected that the bull market was coming to an end. As those concerns were rising, other events were transpiring–Iran attacking two oil tankers near Kuwait, and a severe storm crippling England and shutting down its markets–that led to panic in the European and Asian markets. All of this combined to send the Dow Jones tumbling 508 points–a 22.6% loss in one day. Wall Street descended into temporary chaos before bouncing back a few weeks later. Work some lessons about Wall Street, economics, the stock market, and President Ronald Reagan into your social studies classes!

October 24, 1945: The United Nations is formed.
Born out of necessity in order to better negotiate peace and handle international conflict, especially after World War II, the United Nations Charter was signed on this day in San Francisco. Six months prior, the principles of the Charter were drafted, led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and attended by representatives of 50 different countries. The U.N. is broken into several different bodies: General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, International Court of Justice, and Secretariat, and there are currently 193 members in the United Nations. Lots of interesting topics to cover here–the history of the U.N., the world leaders mentioned above, and the dynamics of international diplomacy.

October 25, 1881: Pablo Picasso is born.
One of the most famous and influential artists in history, Pablo Picasso was born on this day in Malaga, Spain. Well known for his wild designs and vibrant colors, Picasso created more than 50,000 paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures, and ceramics over 80 years, and broke his career into several overlapping “periods.” Picasso gained fame with Cubism before moving onto Mediterranean and classical themes. His World War II-inspired work, Guernica, is considered his masterpiece. Picasso continued creating incredible works of art until his death, at age 91, in 1973. What a perfect opportunity to discuss different types and eras of art, the history of Picasso himself, and the influence of Paris on the art world.

October 26, 1881: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Shootout at the OK Corral.
Pablo Picasso was one day old when arguably the most famous and notorious Western shootout took place. Wyatt Earp and his two brothers were considered the “law and order” in Tombstone, Arizona. But that didn’t stop lawless cowboys, the Clantons and the McLaurys, from terrorizing Tombstone and the surrounding area with robberies and murders. The feud between these outlaws and the Earps–as well as their friend Doc Holliday–came to a bloody head at the OK Corral in Tombstone (technically it was behind the corral, at Third and Fremont Streets). After a day of run-ins with each other, they engaged in the famous shootout…which lasted all of 30 seconds. When it was over, Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers were dead, and both of Wyatt Earp’s brothers, as well as Doc Holliday, were wounded. Two others escaped. Use this event to teach all about the Old West and its famous inhabitants–the Earps, Doc Holliday, Annie Oakley, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James, and others.

October 27, 1787: First Federalist Papers are published.
If you haven’t yet watched Hamilton, learning about the Federalist Papers is a good excuse to see it. The Federalist Papers was essentially a series of essays that argued for ratification of the proposed U.S. Constitution. From this date through 1788, these essays–written by Constitution supporters Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay–were published in several New York newspapers. The first 77 of the 85 essays were published as a book in 1788; The Federalist is considered one of the most important political publications in American history. The impetus for the Federalist Papers was the brewing disagreement between those who wanted the Constitution ratified as written (the Federalists) and those who opposed the Constitution and rejected the idea of giving more power to the national government (Anti-Federalists). Hamilton, Madison, and Jay anonymously wrote the essays defending the Constitution; ultimately, in July of 1788, the New York delegates narrowly voted in favor of the Constitution under the condition that certain amendments would be added–these became the Bill of Rights. Along with the central players here, you can dive into the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, and both Federalism and Anti-Federalism.

October 27, 1904: The New York City subway system opens.
It’s hard to imagine New York City without its famous subway system, but prior to this date, New Yorkers were forced to find other means of transportation through the bustling city. As New York City’s population exploded between 1890 and 1900, it became obvious that a mass transit system was necessary. When the NYC Subway opened in 1904, it rode along approximately 9 miles of track and stopped at 28 stations. That day, more than 100,000 people paid a nickel for a ride. Since then, it’s expanded just a little bit–to more than 800 miles of track and nearly 475 stations! Today, it’s estimated that 5.5 million people ride the New York City subway system every day…or 1.7 billion people per year! It’s arguably the most important transportation system in the world, as nearly three-quarters of all New York City residents say they use the subway at least once per day just for commuting purposes. Shape a lesson around the NYC subway, and explore other mass transit systems across the world, as well as the history of transportation and even the history of New York City.

October 27, 1858: Theodore Roosevelt is born in New York City.
One of the greatest presidents in American history, Theodore Roosevelt overcame childhood health issues and the tragedies of both his wife and mother dying on the same day in 1884 to rise through the political ranks in New York City. By 1898, he was named an assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, a position he left shortly thereafter to form the “Rough Riders” and fight in the Spanish-American War in 1898. He came home from Cuba a war hero, and “Teddy” rode this wave of popularity straight into the White House as vice president, running alongside President William McKinley. Not long after, in September of 1901, McKinley was shot–he died eight days later, at which point Roosevelt was sworn in as President of the United States at the age of 42, the youngest in American history.

While in office, Roosevelt transformed the role of the presidency, putting his Square Deal in place and reimagining foreign policy–he thought that America should “speak softly and carry a big stick” when it came to foreign relations. Among President Roosevelt’s other notable achievements are the formation of the Panama Canal and the negotiations that led to the end of the Russo-Japanese War (which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize). Roosevelt left office in 1909 only to run again in 1912 due to his disagreement with President William Howard Taft’s handling of the presidency. He formed the “Bull Moose,” or Progressive, party but due to a split in Republican votes, lost to Woodrow Wilson. Interestingly enough, despite passing away in 1919 at age 60, his legacy lived on in the White House…his niece, Eleanor Roosevelt, became first lady when her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president.

October 28, 1919: Prohibition is introduced.
On this day, Congress introduced the National Prohibition Act (also known as the Volstead Act), which provided guidelines for the federal enforcement of Prohibition; it was ultimately enforced in 1920. The Volstead Act, while it outlawed the manufacturing, distribution, and sales of alcohol, technically did not outlaw the consumption of alcohol–so people got creative. The resourceful types began illegally making and selling their own alcohol, known as bootlegging. Underground and secret bars or drinking spots called speakeasies opened. And, naturally, all of this directly led to a major increase in gang crime and violence; during this time, Al Capone and the mafia gained nationwide notoriety. The increasing violence and crime, along with the fact that overall support for Prohibition had faded significantly by the late 1920s, led to Prohibition being repealed at the end of 1933. This is such a fascinating period of American history–the Roaring ‘20s, Capone and other famous gangsters, the allure of the illegal speakeasies, as well as both sides of the Prohibition argument.

October 28, 1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis comes to an end.
It only lasted two weeks, but the Cuban Missile Crisis had every American citizen on edge throughout each excruciating day. During this time, the United States and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war, perhaps the most terrifying period of the entire Cold War. The U.S. demanded that the Soviets immediately stop the construction of new missile bases in Cuba. This ran counter to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s mandate to protect Cuba, despite the fact that these nuclear weapons could realistically strike most of the entire United States. What transpired was 13 days of tense negotiations, disagreements, and threats between President John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev as Americans followed it all in horror.

The height of the panic came on October 22, 1962, when President Kennedy informed the American public on national TV that there was a nuclear missile threat. The next couple of days included threats traded between both leaders, as well as U.S. and Soviet ships moving toward Cuba in preparation for battle. At this point, Cuban leader Fidel Castro interjected and tried to persuade Khrushchev to launch a missile attack on America. Fortunately, Khrushchev ignored this advice and made an emotional plea to JFK, suggesting they work together to diffuse the situation. Just as it appeared cooler heads would prevail, an American pilot was shot down over Cuba, and the U.S. was about to retaliate…leading to inevitable nuclear war. President Kennedy was then made aware that Khrushchev did not order this attack, so negotiations resumed. In exchange for Soviet missiles being dismantled and removed from Cuba, JFK promised not to attack Cuba once the Soviets were gone…the Cuban Missile Crisis was finally over. Take a deeper look into the Cold War, both President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev (as well as Castro), the ramifications of nuclear war, and the state of panic Americans lived in for two weeks.

October 29, 1929: The stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.
It began with a historic stock market crash. It continued with the crippling Dust Bowl the following year. The effects lasted a decade. The Great Depression was the single worst economic downturn in history, with millions of investors being cleaned out by the panic on Wall Street. That led to years of decreased consumer spending and industrial output, and high levels of unemployment. By 1933, more than 15 million Americans were out of work, and half the country’s banks had closed. The Great Depression provided a stark contrast from the previous decade, the Roaring ‘20s, which saw unprecedented wealth and economic growth. On October 24, 1929, known as “Black Thursday,” nervous shareholders dumped their overpriced stocks; just five days later, “Black Tuesday” saw a record 16 million stocks traded as panic overtook Wall Street.

What followed was disaster–millions forced into debt, homes foreclosed, people starved, farmers’ crops were left to die. Compounding these events, severe droughts in 1930 (the Dust Bowl), from Nebraska to Texas, led to high winds and dust, leaving people, livestock, and more crops dead. President Herbert Hoover tried unsuccessfully to keep banks open with government loans but otherwise did not believe it was the government’s role to intervene with the economy. After three years of pain and suffering, the American people overwhelmingly elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the next President of the United States. Leading with calm compassion (“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”), FDR got to work immediately, all the while reassuring Americans with his famous “fireside chats.” During the new president’s first 100 days in office, his administration passed legislation designed to stabilize industrial and agricultural production, create jobs, and stimulate recovery. President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” plan was one of the most successful recovery strategies in American history, with landmark acts such as the institution of Social Security and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). By the end of the decade, America was back on track…though it wasn’t long before President Roosevelt’s mettle would be tested once again, as World War II began in late 1941.

That does it for historical figures and events for October! I hope you had fun teaching (and learning about) all these timely topics. Stay tuned for November’s events and lesson topics, coming soon! In the meantime, check out our partner site, Elephango.com, for more fun and factual lessons!

David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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