Published Jul 3, 2021
7 Times Star Trek Took Us to History Class
From gunslingers to a president, here are some of our favorite cameos from American History.
By Margaret Kingsbury
Celebrate Independence Day with these 7 icons from U.S. history who have appeared on Star Trek, from scientists to gunslingers to authors and even an American president.
Celebrate Independence Day with a Star Trek Banger
Abraham Lincoln, “The Savage Curtain,” TOS S3, E22
“There's no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war except its ending.”
“The Savage Curtain” opens with the Enterprise crew running scans on an uninhabitable planet when, suddenly, a giant image of President Abraham Lincoln appears on their viewscreen and asks them to beam down and speak with him. When Kirk and Spock beam down they meet both Abraham Lincoln and Surak, a Vulcan philosopher and Spock’s hero. The planet’s aliens pit this group against four of the evilest villains of history to see whether it’s true that good always triumphs over evil. Throughout the episode, Abraham Lincoln upholds the virtues of honor and self-sacrifice and becomes the embodiment of his mythologized place in American history.
Amelia Earhart, “The 37s,” VOY, S2, E1
“Think I could take her out for a spin?”
The Voyager crew discovers an old pickup truck floating in space, and when Paris turns on the radio, he hears a distress signal. They follow the signal to its origins in the hopes that it will offer a clue for how the crew can return to Earth. They land Voyager on the planet emitting the signal and discover several cryostasis chambers in a mineshaft, with 37 people from Old Earth in stasis. One of them is Amelia Earhart. The crew awakens them and as tensions rise from the very confused and terrified people, Earhart becomes a voice of sanity as she bonds with Janeway. Amelia Earhart’s mysterious disappearance on July 2, 1937 while attempting to fly across the world has inspired much speculation. This episode celebrates her amazing contributions to aviation history.
Mark Twain, “Time’s Arrow,” TNG S5, E26
“I only took advantage of an irresistible opportunity, as any good writer would.”
In this iconic, two-part episode, a temporal disturbance pulls Data into 19th century San Francisco where he encounters Samuel Clemens — aka Mark Twain — discussing the possibilities of alien life with Guinan at a literary reception. Curious and suspicious of Data, Clemens confronts him while he’s creating a portal to the Enterprise. Clemens manages to leap through the portal and onto the Enterprise, where Troi helps him realize that the future is much better than he’d ever imagined it to be, and he apologizes to Data. For many Star Trek watchers, this episode has become part of the mythos of Mark Twain.
Jack London, “Time’s Arrow,” TNG S5, E26
“Well, a man rides into town in his pajamas, wins a grub stake at a poker table, turns it into a horseless carriage and makes a million bucks. That's America!”
In the same episode, Data meets a young Jack London, who is his bellhop at the San Francisco hotel where he meets Samuel Clemens. While Jack London never worked as a bellhop and it’s very unlikely he and Samuel Clemens met, it does create an iconic moment when Clemens encourages him to write, saying “Young man, I have a maxim that I have always lived by: no one is more qualified to write your story than you are.” Jack London’s most famous books are White Fang and Call of the Wild.
Albert Einstein, “The Nth Degree,” TNG S4, E19
“You just spent the entire night arguing grand unification theories with Albert Einstein!”--Geordi La Forge
A mysterious probe knocks Lieutenant Barclay unconscious, and when he awakens in sickbay, he feels confident for the first time in his life. This confidence transforms into hyper-intelligence, and since the Enterprise crew is unable to keep up with his lightning-fast theories, he creates a holodeck version of Albert Einstein to talk to. While this scene with the Holodeck version of Einstein is brief, it captures his iconic role in U.S. and world history as a renowned scientist.
Wyatt Earp, “Spectre of the Gun,” TOS S3, E1
“Five o'clock, Clanton. Is that clear? If you're in town at 5:01, we'll kill every one of you whether you draw or not. Is that clear?”
After being warned away from a planet by the Melkotians, Kirk decides to beam down with a landing party anyway. A Melkotian explains that because they didn’t heed their warning, they will be punished, and the landing party suddenly finds themselves in 19th century Tombstone, Arizona. Kirk realizes that everyone in town thinks they’re the Clantons and that they’re being forced into recreating the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, where the Clantons were gunned down by the famous lawman Wyatt Earp and his brothers. In the episode, Wyatt Earp comes across as unyielding and inhuman, a pawn in the Melkotian’s plans.
Doc Holliday, “Spectre of the Gun,” TOS S3, E1
"Because at one minute past five, you'll find a hole in your head. Right from this gun."
Doc Holliday, a famous gambler and friend of Wyatt Earp, also appears in this episode in his less famous role as a dentist. When McCoy slips into the local dentist’s clinic to find ingredients for a gas grenade, he’s confronted by Doc Holliday, who allows him to take what he wants while he threatens McCoy’s impending death at the O.K. Corral. As with Wyatt Earp, this is not the charming Doc Holliday from recent films, but a dangerous and unreasoning one.