April 17th Holidays and Observances

International Ford Mustang Day

Today is International Ford Mustang Day. The day celebrates the introduction of the Ford Mustang at the New York World’s Fair on April 17, 1964. It was released in showrooms across the country on the same day, and 22,000 vehicles were sold on its first day.

Of course, the Mustang had a little help. The night before the release, commercials were shown on all three networks, and the car had been featured on the cover of both Newsweek and Time magazines.

The Mustang was a popular car from the outset. Only 100,000 had been scheduled for production in 1964, and those were sold in the first three months. Before the year was over, the car had set a record by selling 418,812 units, and within 18 months the count was over a million. Of course, it didn’t hurt that a Mustang was featured in Goldfinger in September, 1964. (A few years later Steve McQueen would add to the car’s fame with Bullitt.)

The MSRP of the first Mustang was $2,368. Ford managed to keep costs down by using many parts and features (drivetrain, chassis, interior, suspension) that had been used on previous Ford vehicles, especially the Falcon and Fairlane. This also helped out the dealers — they didn’t need to stock a whole line of special parts for the model, and mechanics were already familiar with repairs.

If you’re wondering where the Mustang got its name, there are two schools of thought on that. One story is that John Najjar, an executive stylist who worked on the project, was a big fan of the P-51 Mustang, a World War II fighter plane, and named the car after it. The other story is that the name was suggested by Robert J. Eggert, a market research director with Ford, who was a horse breeder. His wife had given him a book, The Mustangs, for his birthday, and he threw the word in with some other names that were being tested by focus groups. The focus groups declared Mustang the runaway winner.

Ellis Island Family History Day

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1907 when the highest number of immigrants were processed at Ellis Island than on any other day: 11,747. It became an immigration station in 1892 — before that, immigrants had been admitted at Castle Garden Immigration Depot in Manhattan. On its first day — January 1, 1892 — about 700 immigrants were admitted. Before the year was over, the number would reach almost 450,000. Unfortunately, many of the earliest immigration records were destroyed in a fire in 1897.

It’s estimated that about one-third of all Americans can trace their ancestry to immigrants who entered the country from Ellis Island. Sadly, not everyone who made the long ocean voyage was admitted. Would-be immigrants underwent a cursory medical exam, which weeded out those with obvious medical problems, insanity, or contagious diseases. They were also checked for financial solvency and the apparent ability to support themselves. Symbols indicating possible denials were written with chalk on the immigrants’ clothing. Some immigrants only achieved entry by erasing the chalk marks, or by turning their clothing inside out.

The immigration station on Ellis Island closed in 1954, and the buildings were largely neglected for many years. In 1965, Ellis Island was made part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, and the main building has been restored as a museum. A database of immigration records is available for free research at www.ellisisland.org, or can be accessed at the Family History Center on Ellis Island for a $5 charge.

Sources: Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2011 Edition: The Ultimate Go-To Guide for Special Days, Weeks and Months, Editors of Chase’s Calendar of Events; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_17th; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Mustang; http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ford-mustang-debuts-at-worlds-fair; http://www.life.com/gallery/23256; http://classicponycars.com/history.html; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellis_Island; http://www.ellisisland.org/Eiinfo/Press_AFIHC.asp; http://www.genealogyblog.com/?p=3951.