August 13, 1521: On this day in 1521 the city of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, fell to Hernan Cortez and his Spanish conquistadores. This came at the end of a short campaign in which Cortez and his followers destroyed this major empire in less than two years, in large part by allying with the native enemies of the Aztecs and owing to the ravages caused by the introduction of European diseases such as smallpox. Just three years after the fall of Tenochtitlan the Spanish in the region planted the first Spanish grapes in mainland America. These are understood today to have been the Listán Prieto varietal, which was native to much of Spain in the early sixteenth century, but which is largely confined to the Canary Islands today. The identity of the grapes involved was soon forgotten. Instead, this species of grape became known as ‘Mission Grape. It was taken around Central and South America in the decades that followed and formed the basis of viticulture across the Spanish Empire between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. For more information, see the paper ‘Hernan Cortes and the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire, 1519–1521’, by T.J. Brinkerhoff in The History Teacher, Vol. 49 (2016), pp. 169–187.
August 13, 1921: Beginning on this day, the Genna brothers gang gave one-gallon copper “alky cookers,” or stills, to hundreds of residents in the Little Italy district of Chicago. Using these kits, residents could produce tiny amounts of homemade booze in their kitchens. The Gennas provided corn sugar and yeast. These family-owned businesses were visited by the gang’s henchmen and paid $15 (approximately $188 in 2016) each day to supervise the manufacturing of liters of pure alcohol. The Genovese family earned a tidy profit; as they only paid 50 to 75 cents per gallon for the illicit booze, which they then sold to speakeasies for $6. New York mobster Frankie Yale paid Italian-Americans $15 a day to operate alky cookers in Brooklyn, New York City.
August 13, 2010: This day marks the inaugural International Prosecco Day, organized by Riondo Prosecco. The date was selected due to the timing of summer, as the sparkling wine is served best cold in warm weather.