THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: APRIL 26, 1822

Birth of Fredrick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted was America’s foremost landscape architect in the late nineteenth century. Olmsted was famous for co-designing many well-known urban parks including Central Park in New York City, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Elm Park in Worcester, Massachusetts, considered by many to be the first municipal park in America.

More than any other American of his generation Olmsted represented a belief in the power of landscape to provide a refuge to urban residents and succeeded in planting the romantic ideal in the heart of some of the nation’s largest cities. At a time when most urban land was in the hands of private speculators, he symbolized a belief in the civic good and the necessity of urban planning.

Olmsted was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on April 26, 1822. When he was fourteen years old a severe case of sumac poisoning partially blinded him, and for several years thereafter he had poor eyesight. Doctors recommended that he do little reading, so he postponed entering college and traveled in the northeastern United States and Canada with his father, a wealthy merchant. He then worked for a New York importer (1840) and traveled to China (1843). Upon his return to the United States he briefly studied scientific farming at Yale University and did some publishing and editorial work. Between 1852 and 1854 he traveled through the South and wrote extensively on the region, submitting stories to the New York Daily Tribune. The stories were compiled and published as The Cotton Kingdom in 1861. Olmsted received an appointment as general secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission during part of the Civil War (1861–1863), then went to California as administrator of the forty-four-thousand-acre Mariposa Estate (1863–1865).

Olmsted was an early American observer of British and of continental parks; he admired the eighteenth-century English garden and skillfully used open areas and natural watersheds in his designs. He developed his style of landscape design in response to urban needs; he was the first to call himself a landscape architect rather than a landscape gardener. With his partner, Calvert Vaux, he designed New York’s 840-acre Central Park (1858–1861) and landscaped New York City north of 155th Street. Olmsted’s style in turn inspired many city and national parks that followed. He also planned the Emerald Necklace (Boston), Prospect Park (Brooklyn), South Park (Chicago), Belle Isle Park (Detroit), Mount Royal Park (Montreal), the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, and the Boston and Buffalo park systems. His other projects included the Stanford University campus (1886) and the Biltmore Estate outside Asheville, North Carolina (1888). One of his last major projects was as chief landscape planner for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Olmsted died on August 28, 1903.

Olmsted, Frederick Law (1822–1903). (1997). In American Eras (Vol. 8, p. 417). Detroit: Gale.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: APRIL 18, 1942

Doolittle Leads Air Raid on Tokyo

In early 1942 the United States, still tormented by the shock of Pearl Harbor and the continuing succession of Japanese victories, needed some type of victory to raise morale. To effect this, a scheme was concocted to have army B-25 bombers take off from the navy aircraft carrier Hornet and attack the Japanese mainland. Arnold, now commanding general of the Army Air Forces, chose Doolittle to lead the air strike. Colonel Doolittle set about to supervise the training of his volunteer crews and the modification of their B-25s to obtain maximum range. His crews, who had never taken off from a carrier deck, knew nothing about the mission until they were far out to sea. On the morning of April 18, 1942, the Japanese observed the carriers Hornet and Enterprise, compelling Doolittle to schedule the raid a day earlier and at a greater range from their targets. All 16 B-25s dropped their bombs, but as a consequence of the 150-mile extended flight path all but one aircraft, which landed in the Soviet Union, ran out of fuel and went down in Japanese-occupied China. Of the 80 crewmen, 71 survived, one died and eight were captured. The Japanese executed four of the captured American airmen as war criminals; the others survived cruel treatment and were freed at the war’s end. Most of the pilots, including Doolittle, maneuvered their way to friendly lines. Unfortunately, the Japanese subsequently executed many of the Chinese peasants who had assisted Doolittle’s raiders. While the actual damage of the Doolittle raid was slight, the psychological effect on the Japanese was significant: their army and navy had failed to protect their homeland. In June, Japanese strategists decided to attack Midway Island, where they lost four large carriers and one cruiser. One of the decisive battles in human history had taken place because of Doolittle’s action. Doolittle was made a brigadier general following the raid and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Promotion to major general soon followed.

Doolittle, James Harold. (2001). In K. T. Jackson, K. Markoe, & A. Markoe (Eds.), The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives (Vol. 3, pp. 148-151). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.


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