On this day in 1959, Lee Petty defeats Johnny Beauchamp in a photo finish at the just-opened Daytona International Speedway in Florida to win the first-ever Daytona 500.
The race was so close that Beauchamp was initially named the winner by William France, the owner of the track and head of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).
However, Petty, who was driving a hardtop Oldsmobile 88, challenged the results and three days later, with the assistance of news photographs, he was officially named the champ.
There was speculation that France declared Beauchamp the winner in order to intentionally stir up controversy and generate publicity for his new race track.
On this day in 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Racing–or NASCAR, as it will come to be widely known–is officially incorporated. NASCAR racing will go on to become one of America’s most popular spectator sports, as well as a multi-billion-dollar industry.
On this day in 1885, the Washington Monument was formally dedicated, and three years later it was opened to the public, who were permitted to climb to the top of the monument by stairs or elevator. The monument was the tallest structure in the world when completed and remains today, by District of Columbia law, the tallest building in the nation’s capital.
The 555-foot-high marble obelisk was first proposed in 1783, and Pierre L’Enfant left room for it in his designs for the new U.S. capital. After George Washington’s death in 1799, plans for a memorial for the “father of the country” were discussed, but none were adopted until 1832–the centennial of Washington’s birth. Architect Robert Mills’ hollow Egyptian obelisk design was accepted for the monument, and on July 4, 1848, the cornerstone was laid. Work on the project was interrupted by political quarreling in the 1850s, and construction ceased entirely during the American Civil War. Finally, in 1876, Congress, inspired by the American centennial, passed legislation appropriating $200,000 for completion of the monument.