Subject: December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor bombed
At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.
With diplomatic negotiations with Japan breaking down, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers knew that an imminent Japanese attack was probable, but nothing had been done to increase security at the important naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday morning, and many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. At 7:02 a.m., two radar operators spotted large groups of aircraft in flight toward the island from the north, but, with a flight of B-17s expected from the United States at the time, they were told to sound no alarm. Thus, the Japanese air assault came as a devastating surprise to the naval base.
Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless: Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded, many while valiantly attempting to repulse the attack. Japan's losses were some 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men. Fortunately for the United States, all three Pacific fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers. These giant aircraft carriers would have their revenge against Japan six months later at the Battle of Midway, reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy in a spectacular victory.
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941--a date which will live in infamy--the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." After a brief and forceful speech, he asked Congress to approve a resolution recognizing the state of war between the United States and Japan. The Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the U.S. government responded in kind.
The American contribution to the successful Allied war effort spanned four long years and cost more than 400,000 American lives.
Subject: December 8, 1980: John Lennon shot
John Lennon, a former member of the Beatles, the rock group that transformed popular music in the 1960s, is shot and killed by an obsessed fan in New York City. The 40-year-old artist was entering his luxury Manhattan apartment building when Mark David Chapman shot him four times at close range with a .38-caliber revolver. Lennon, bleeding profusely, was rushed to the hospital but died en route. Chapman had received an autograph from Lennon earlier in the day and voluntarily remained at the scene of the shooting until he was arrested by police. For a week, hundreds of bereaved fans kept a vigil outside the Dakota--Lennon's apartment building--and demonstrations of mourning were held around the world.
John Lennon was one half of the singing-songwriting team that made the Beatles the most popular musical group of the 20th century. The other band leader was Paul McCartney, but the rest of the quartet--George Harrison and Ringo Starr--sometimes penned and sang their own songs as well. Hailing from Liverpool, England, and influenced by early American rock and roll, the Beatles took Britain by storm in 1963 with the single "Please Please Me." "Beatlemania" spread to the United States in 1964 with the release of "I Want to Hold Your Hand," followed by a sensational U.S. tour. With youth poised to break away from the culturally rigid landscape of the 1950s, the "Fab Four," with their exuberant music and good-natured rebellion, were the perfect catalyst for the shift.
The Beatles sold millions of records and starred in hit movies such as A Hard Day's Night (1964). Their live performances were near riots, with teenage girls screaming and fainting as their boyfriends nodded along to the catchy pop songs. In 1966, the Beatles gave up touring to concentrate on their innovative studio recordings, such as 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, a psychedelic concept album that is regarded as a masterpiece of popular music. The Beatles' music remained relevant to youth throughout the great cultural shifts of the 1960s, and critics of all ages acknowledged the songwriting genius of the Lennon-McCartney team.
Lennon was considered the intellectual Beatle and certainly was the most outspoken of the four. He caused a major controversy in 1966 when he declared that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus," prompting mass burnings of Beatles' records in the American Bible Belt. He later became an anti-war activist and flirted with communism in the lyrics of solo hits like "Imagine," recorded after the Beatles disbanded in 1970. In 1975, Lennon dropped out of the music business to spend more time with his Japanese-born wife, Yoko Ono, and their son, Sean. In 1980, he made a comeback with Double-Fantasy, a critically acclaimed album that celebrated his love for Yoko and featured songs written by her.
On December 8, 1980, their peaceful domestic life on New York's Upper West Side was shattered by 25-year-old Mark David Chapman. Psychiatrists deemed Chapman a borderline psychotic. He was instructed to plead insanity, but instead he pleaded guilty to murder. He was sentenced to 20 years to life. In 2000, New York State prison officials denied Chapman a parole hearing, telling him that his "vicious and violent act was apparently fueled by your need to be acknowledged." He remains behind bars at Attica Prison in New York State.
John Lennon is memorialized in "Strawberry Fields," a section of Central Park across the street from the Dakota that Yoko Ono landscaped in honor of her husband.
Subject: December 9, 1992: U.S Marines storm Mogadishu, Somalia
On this day in 1992, 1,800 United States Marines arrive in Mogadishu, Somalia, to spearhead a multinational force aimed at restoring order in the conflict-ridden country.
Following centuries of colonial rule by countries including Portugal, Britain and Italy, Mogadishu became the capital of an independent Somalia in 1960. Less than 10 years later, a military group led by Major General Muhammad Siad Barre seized power and declared Somalia a socialist state. A drought in the mid-1970s combined with an unsuccessful rebellion by ethnic Somalis in a neighboring province of Ethiopia to deprive many of food and shelter. By 1981, close to 2 million of the country's inhabitants were homeless. Though a peace accord was signed with Ethiopia in 1988, fighting increased between rival clans within Somalia, and in January 1991 Barre was forced to flee the capital. Over the next 23 months, Somalia's civil war killed some 50,000 people; another 300,000 died of starvation as United Nations peacekeeping forces struggled in vain to restore order and provide relief amid the chaos of war.
In early December 1992, outgoing U.S. President George H.W. Bush sent the contingent of Marines to Mogadishu as part of a mission dubbed Operation Restore Hope. Backed by the U.S. troops, international aid workers were soon able to restore food distribution and other humanitarian aid operations. Sporadic violence continued, including the murder of 24 U.N. soldiers from Pakistan in 1993. As a result, the U.N. authorized the arrest of General Mohammed Farah Aidid, leader of one of the rebel clans. On October 3, 1993, during an attempt to make the arrest, rebels shot down two of the U.S. Army's Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 American soldiers.
As horrified TV viewers watched images of the bloodshed—-including footage of Aidid's supporters dragging the body of one dead soldier through the streets of Mogadishu, cheering—-President Bill Clinton immediately gave the order for all American soldiers to withdraw from Somalia by March 31, 1994. Other Western nations followed suit. When the last U.N. peacekeepers left in 1995, ending a mission that had cost more than $2 billion, Mogadishu still lacked a functioning government. A ceasefire accord signed in Kenya in 2002 failed to put a stop to the violence, and though a new parliament was convened in 2004, rival factions in various regions of Somalia continue to struggle for control of the troubled nation.
Subject: December 10, 1901: First Nobel Prizes awarded
The first Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The ceremony came on the fifth anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite and other high explosives. In his will, Nobel directed that the bulk of his vast fortune be placed in a fund in which the interest would be "annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind." Although Nobel offered no public reason for his creation of the prizes, it is widely believed that he did so out of moral regret over the increasingly lethal uses of his inventions in war.
Alfred Bernhard Nobel was born in Stockholm in 1833, and four years later his family moved to Russia. His father ran a successful St. Petersburg factory that built explosive mines and other military equipment. Educated in Russia, Paris, and the United States, Alfred Nobel proved a brilliant chemist. When his father's business faltered after the end of the Crimean War, Nobel returned to Sweden and set up a laboratory to experiment with explosives. In 1863, he invented a way to control the detonation of nitroglycerin, a highly volatile liquid that had been recently discovered but was previously regarded as too dangerous for use. Two years later, Nobel invented the blasting cap, an improved detonator that inaugurated the modern use of high explosives. Previously, the most dependable explosive was black powder, a form of gunpowder.
Nitroglycerin remained dangerous, however, and in 1864 Nobel's nitroglycerin factory blew up, killing his younger brother and several other people. Searching for a safer explosive, Nobel discovered in 1867 that the combination of nitroglycerin and a porous substance called kieselguhr produced a highly explosive mixture that was much safer to handle and use. Nobel christened his invention "dynamite," for the Greek word dynamis, meaning "power." Securing patents on dynamite, Nobel acquired a fortune as humanity put his invention to use in construction and warfare.
In 1875, Nobel created a more powerful form of dynamite, blasting gelatin, and in 1887 introduced ballistite, a smokeless nitroglycerin powder. Around that time, one of Nobel's brothers died in France, and French newspapers printed obituaries in which they mistook him for Alfred. One headline read, "The merchant of death is dead." Alfred Nobel in fact had pacifist tendencies and in his later years apparently developed strong misgivings about the impact of his inventions on the world. After he died in San Remo, Italy, on December 10, 1896, the majority of his estate went toward the creation of prizes to be given annually in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The portion of his will establishing the Nobel Peace Prize read, "[one award shall be given] to the person who has done the most or best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." Exactly five years after his death, the first Nobel awards were presented.
Today, the Nobel Prizes are regarded as the most prestigious awards in the world in their various fields. Notable winners have included Marie Curie, Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Nelson Mandela. Multiple leaders and organizations sometimes receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and multiple researchers often share the scientific awards for their joint discoveries. In 1968, a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science was established by the Swedish national bank, Sveriges Riksbank, and first awarded in 1969.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decides the prizes in physics, chemistry, and economic science; the Swedish Royal Caroline Medico-Surgical Institute determines the physiology or medicine award; the Swedish Academy chooses literature; and a committee elected by the Norwegian parliament awards the peace prize. The Nobel Prizes are still presented annually on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death. In 2006, each Nobel Prize carried a cash prize of nearly $1,400,000 and recipients also received a gold medal, as is the tradition.
Subject: December 11, 1936: Edward VIII abdicates
After ruling for less than one year, Edward VIII becomes the first English monarch to voluntarily abdicate the throne. He chose to abdicate after the British government, public, and the Church of England condemned his decision to marry the American divorcée Wallis Warfield Simpson. On the evening of December 11, he gave a radio address in which he explained, "I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love." On December 12, his younger brother, the duke of York, was proclaimed King George VI.
Edward, born in 1894, was the eldest son of King George V, who became the British sovereign in 1910. Still unmarried as he approached his 40th birthday, he socialized with the fashionable London society of the day. By 1934, he had fallen deeply in love with American socialite Wallis Warfield Simpson, who was married to Ernest Simpson, an English-American businessman who lived with Mrs. Simpson near London. Wallis, who was born in Pennsylvania, had previously married and divorced a U.S. Navy pilot. The royal family disapproved of Edward's married mistress, but by 1936 the prince was intent on marrying Mrs. Simpson. Before he could discuss this intention with his father, George V died, in January 1936, and Edward was proclaimed king.
The new king proved popular with his subjects, and his coronation was scheduled for May 1937. His affair with Mrs. Simpson was reported in American and continental European newspapers, but due to a gentlemen's agreement between the British press and the government, the affair was kept out of British newspapers. On October 27, 1936, Mrs. Simpson obtained a preliminary decree of divorce, presumably with the intent of marrying the king, which precipitated a major scandal. To the Church of England and most British politicians, an American woman twice divorced was unacceptable as a prospective British queen. Winston Churchill, then a Conservative backbencher, was the only notable politician to support Edward.
Despite the seemingly united front against him, Edward could not be dissuaded. He proposed a morganatic marriage, in which Wallis would be granted no rights of rank or property, but on December 2, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin rejected the suggestion as impractical. The next day, the scandal broke on the front pages of British newspapers and was discussed openly in Parliament. With no resolution possible, the king renounced the throne on December 10. The next day, Parliament approved the abdication instrument, and Edward VIII's reign came to an end. The new king, George VI, made his older brother the duke of Windsor. On June 3, 1937, the duke of Windsor and Wallis Warfield married at the Château de Cande in France's Loire Valley.
For the next two years, the duke and duchess lived primarily in France but visited other European countries, including Germany, where the duke was honored by Nazi officials in October 1937 and met with Adolf Hitler. After the outbreak of World War II, the duke accepted a position as liaison officer with the French. In June 1940, France fell to the Nazis, and Edward and Wallis went to Spain. During this period, the Nazis concocted a scheme to kidnap Edward with the intention of returning him to the British throne as a puppet king. George VI, like his prime minister, Winston Churchill, was adamantly opposed to any peace with Nazi Germany. Unaware of the Nazi kidnapping plot but conscious of Edward's pre-war Nazi sympathies, Churchill hastily offered Edward the governorship of the Bahamas in the West Indies. The duke and duchess set sail from Lisbon on August 1, 1940, narrowly escaping a Nazi SS team sent to seize them.
In 1945, the duke resigned his post, and the couple moved back to France. They lived mainly in Paris, and Edward made a few visits to England, such as to attend the funerals of King George VI in 1952 and his mother, Queen Mary, in 1953. It was not until 1967 that the duke and duchess were invited by the royal family to attend an official public ceremony, the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to Queen Mary. Edward died in Paris in 1972 but was buried at Frogmore, on the grounds of Windsor Castle. In 1986, Wallis died and was buried at his side.
Subject: December 12, 1980: Da Vinci notebook sells for over 5 million
On this day in 1980, American oil tycoon Armand Hammer pays $5,126,000 at auction for a notebook containing writings by the legendary artist Leonardo da Vinci.
The manuscript, written around 1508, was one of some 30 similar books da Vinci produced during his lifetime on a variety of subjects. It contained 72 loose pages featuring some 300 notes and detailed drawings, all relating to the common theme of water and how it moved. Experts have said that da Vinci drew on it to paint the background of his masterwork, the Mona Lisa. The text, written in brown ink and chalk, read from right to left, an example of da Vinci's favored mirror-writing technique. The painter Giuseppi Ghezzi discovered the notebook in 1690 in a chest of papers belonging to Guglielmo della Porto, a 16th-century Milanese sculptor who had studied Leonardo's work. In 1717, Thomas Coke, the first earl of Leicester, bought the manuscript and installed it among his impressive collection of art at his family estate in England.
More than two centuries later, the notebook--by now known as the Leicester Codex--showed up on the auction block at Christie's in London when the current Lord Coke was forced to sell it to cover inheritance taxes on the estate and art collection. In the days before the sale, art experts and the press speculated that the notebook would go for $7 to $20 million. In fact, the bidding started at $1.4 million and lasted less than two minutes, as Hammer and at least two or three other bidders competed to raise the price $100,000 at a time. The $5.12 million price tag was the highest ever paid for a manuscript at that time; a copy of the legendary Gutenberg Bible had gone for only $2 million in 1978. "I’m very happy with the price. I expected to pay more," Hammer said later. "There is no work of art in the world I wanted more than this." Lord Coke, on the other hand, was only "reasonably happy" with the sale; he claimed the proceeds would not be sufficient to cover the taxes he owed.
Hammer, the president of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, renamed his prize the Hammer Codex and added it to his valuable collection of art. When Hammer died in 1990, he left the notebook and other works to the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Several years later, the museum offered the manuscript for sale, claiming it was forced to take this action to cover legal costs incurred when the niece and sole heir of Hammer's late wife, Frances, sued the estate claiming Hammer had cheated Frances out of her rightful share of his fortune. On November 11, 1994, the Hammer Codex was sold to an anonymous bidder--soon identified as Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft--at a New York auction for a new record high price of $30.8 million. Gates restored the title of Leicester Codex and has since loaned the manuscript to a number of museums for public display.
Subject: December 13, 2000: Al Gore concedes presidential election
Vice President Al Gore reluctantly concedes defeat to Texas Governor George W. Bush in his bid for the presidency, following weeks of legal battles over the recounting of votes in Florida, on this day in 2000.
In a televised speech from his ceremonial office next to the White House, Gore said that while he was deeply disappointed and sharply disagreed with the Supreme Court verdict that ended his campaign, ''partisan rancor must now be put aside.''
"I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College'' he said. "And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.''
Gore had won the national popular vote by more than 500,000 votes, but narrowly lost Florida, giving the Electoral College to Bush 271 to 266.
Gore said he had telephoned Bush to offer his congratulations, honoring him, for the first time, with the title ''president-elect.''
''I promised that I wouldn't call him back this time'' Gore said, referring to the moment on election night when he had called Bush to tell him he was going to concede, then called back a half hour later to retract that concession.
Gore only hinted at what he might do in the future. ''I've seen America in this campaign and I like what I see. It's worth fighting for—and that's a fight I'll never stop.''
Among the friends and family beside Gore were his wife, Tipper, and his running mate, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, and his wife, Hadassah.
A little more than an hour later, Bush addressed the nation for the first time as president-elect, declaring that the "nation must rise above a house divided." Speaking from the podium of the Texas House of Representatives, Bush devoted his speech to themes of reconciliation following one of the closest and most disputed presidential elections in U.S. history. ''I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation,'' Bush said.
Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, took office on January 20, 2001. They were re-elected in 2004 over Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards.
Subject: December 14, 1911: Amundsen reaches South Pole
Norwegian Roald Amundsen becomes the first explorer to reach the South Pole, beating his British rival, Robert Falcon Scott.
Amundsen, born in Borge, near Oslo, in 1872, was one of the great figures in polar exploration. In 1897, he was first mate on a Belgian expedition that was the first ever to winter in the Antarctic. In 1903, he guided the 47-ton sloop Gjöa through the Northwest Passage and around the Canadian coast, the first navigator to accomplish the treacherous journey. Amundsen planned to be the first man to the North Pole, and he was about to embark in 1909 when he learned that the American Robert Peary had achieved the feat.
Amundsen completed his preparations and in June 1910 sailed instead for Antarctica, where the English explorer Robert F. Scott was also headed with the aim of reaching the South Pole. In early 1911, Amundsen sailed his ship into Antarctica's Bay of Whales and set up base camp 60 miles closer to the pole than Scott. In October, both explorers set off--Amundsen using sleigh dogs, and Scott employing Siberian motor sledges, Siberian ponies, and dogs. On December 14, 1911, Amundsen's expedition won the race to the Pole and returned safely to base camp in late January.
Scott's expedition was less fortunate. The motor sleds broke down, the ponies had to be shot, and the dog teams were sent back as Scott and four companions continued on foot. On January 18, 1912, they reached the pole only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by over a month. Weather on the return journey was exceptionally bad--two members perished--and a storm later trapped Scott and the other two survivors in their tent only 11 miles from their base camp. Scott's frozen body was found later that year.
After his historic Antarctic journey, Amundsen established a successful shipping business. He later made attempts to become the first explorer to fly over the North Pole. In 1925, in an airplane, he flew within 150 miles of the goal. In 1926, he passed over the North Pole in a dirigible just three days after American explorer Richard E. Byrd had apparently done so in an aircraft. In 1996, a diary that Byrd had kept on the flight was found that seemed to suggest that the he had turned back 150 miles short of its goal because of an oil leak, making Amundsen's dirigible expedition the first flight over the North Pole.
In 1928, Amundsen lost his life while trying to rescue a fellow explorer whose dirigible had crashed at sea near Spitsbergen, Norway.
Subject: December 15, 2001: Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens
On this day in 2001, Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens after a team of experts spent 11 years and $27 million to fortify the tower without eliminating its famous lean.
In the 12th century, construction began on the bell tower for the cathedral of Pisa, a busy trade center on the Arno River in western Italy, some 50 miles from Florence. While construction was still in progress, the tower's foundation began to sink into the soft, marshy ground, causing it to lean to one side. Its builders tried to compensate for the lean by making the top stories slightly taller on one side, but the extra masonry required only made the tower sink further. By the time it was completed in 1360, modern-day engineers say it was a miracle it didn't fall down completely.
Though the cathedral itself and the adjoining baptistery also leaned slightly, it was the Torre Pendente di Pisa, or Leaning Tower of Pisa, that became the city's most famous tourist attraction. By the 20th century, the 190-foot-high white marble tower leaned a dramatic 15 feet off the perpendicular. In the year before its closing in 1990, 1 million people visited the old tower, climbing its 293 weathered steps to the top and gazing out over the green Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) outside. Fearing it was about to collapse, officials appointed a group of 14 archeologists, architects and soil experts to figure out how to take some--but not all--of the famous tilt away.
Though an initial attempt in 1994 almost toppled the tower, engineers were eventually able to reduce the lean by between 16 and 17 inches by removing earth from underneath the foundations. When the tower reopened on December 15, 2001, engineers predicted it would take 300 years to return to its 1990 position. Though entrance to the tower is now limited to guided tours, hordes of tourists can still be found outside, striking the classic pose--standing next to the tower pretending to hold it up--as cameras flash.
Subject: December 16, 1773: The Boston Tea Party
In Boston Harbor, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships and dump 342 chests of tea into the harbor.
The midnight raid, popularly known as the "Boston Tea Party," was in protest of the British Parliament's Tea Act of 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a virtual monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny.
When three tea ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor, the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England. After Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused, Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the "tea party" with about 60 members of the Sons of Liberty, his underground resistance group. The British tea dumped in Boston Harbor on the night of December 16 was valued at some $18,000.
Parliament, outraged by the blatant destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.
Subject: December 17, 1903: First airplane flies
Near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first successful flight in history of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. Orville piloted the gasoline-powered, propeller-driven biplane, which stayed aloft for 12 seconds and covered 120 feet on its inaugural flight.
Orville and Wilbur Wright grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and developed an interest in aviation after learning of the glider flights of the German engineer Otto Lilienthal in the 1890s. Unlike their older brothers, Orville and Wilbur did not attend college, but they possessed extraordinary technical ability and a sophisticated approach to solving problems in mechanical design. They built printing presses and in 1892 opened a bicycle sales and repair shop. Soon, they were building their own bicycles, and this experience, combined with profits from their various businesses, allowed them to pursue actively their dream of building the world's first airplane.
After exhaustively researching other engineers' efforts to build a heavier-than-air, controlled aircraft, the Wright brothers wrote the U.S. Weather Bureau inquiring about a suitable place to conduct glider tests. They settled on Kitty Hawk, an isolated village on North Carolina's Outer Banks, which offered steady winds and sand dunes from which to glide and land softly. Their first glider, tested in 1900, performed poorly, but a new design, tested in 1901, was more successful. Later that year, they built a wind tunnel where they tested nearly 200 wings and airframes of different shapes and designs. The brothers' systematic experimentations paid off--they flew hundreds of successful flights in their 1902 glider at Kill Devils Hills near Kitty Hawk. Their biplane glider featured a steering system, based on a movable rudder, that solved the problem of controlled flight. They were now ready for powered flight.
In Dayton, they designed a 12-horsepower internal combustion engine with the assistance of machinist Charles Taylor and built a new aircraft to house it. They transported their aircraft in pieces to Kitty Hawk in the autumn of 1903, assembled it, made a few further tests, and on December 14 Orville made the first attempt at powered flight. The engine stalled during take-off and the plane was damaged, and they spent three days repairing it. Then at 10:35 a.m. on December 17, in front of five witnesses, the aircraft ran down a monorail track and into the air, staying aloft for 12 seconds and flying 120 feet. The modern aviation age was born. Three more tests were made that day, with Wilbur and Orville alternately flying the airplane. Wilbur flew the last flight, covering 852 feet in 59 seconds.
During the next few years, the Wright brothers further developed their airplanes but kept a low profile about their successes in order to secure patents and contracts for their flying machines. By 1905, their aircraft could perform complex maneuvers and remain aloft for up to 39 minutes at a time. In 1908, they traveled to France and made their first public flights, arousing widespread public excitement. In 1909, the U.S. Army's Signal Corps purchased a specially constructed plane, and the brothers founded the Wright Company to build and market their aircraft. Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912; Orville lived until 1948.
The historic Wright brothers' aircraft of 1903 is on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Subject: December 18, 1620: Mayflower docks at Plymouth Harbor
On December 18, 1620, the British ship Mayflower docked at modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, and its passengers prepared to begin their new settlement, Plymouth Colony.
The famous Mayflower story began in 1606, when a group of reform-minded Puritans in Nottinghamshire, England, founded their own church, separate from the state-sanctioned Church of England. Accused of treason, they were forced to leave the country and settle in the more tolerant Netherlands. After 12 years of struggling to adapt and make a decent living, the group sought financial backing from some London merchants to set up a colony in America. On September 6, 1620, 102 passengers–dubbed Pilgrims by William Bradford, a passenger who would become the first governor of Plymouth Colony–crowded on the Mayflower to begin the long, hard journey to a new life in the New World.
On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower anchored at what is now Provincetown Harbor, Cape Cod. Before going ashore, 41 male passengers–heads of families, single men and three male servants–signed the famous Mayflower Compact, agreeing to submit to a government chosen by common consent and to obey all laws made for the good of the colony. Over the next month, several small scouting groups were sent ashore to collect firewood and scout out a good place to build a settlement. Around December 10, one of these groups found a harbor they liked on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. They returned to the Mayflower to tell the other passengers, but bad weather prevented them from docking until December 18. After exploring the region, the settlers chose a cleared area previously occupied by members of a local Native American tribe, the Wampanoag. The tribe had abandoned the village several years earlier, after an outbreak of European disease. That winter of 1620-1621 was brutal, as the Pilgrims struggled to build their settlement, find food and ward off sickness. By spring, 50 of the original 102 Mayflower passengers were dead. The remaining settlers made contact with returning members of the Wampanoag tribe and in March they signed a peace treaty with a tribal chief, Massasoit. Aided by the Wampanoag, especially the English-speaking Squanto, the Pilgrims were able to plant crops–especially corn and beans–that were vital to their survival. The Mayflower and its crew left Plymouth to return to England on April 5, 1621.
Over the next several decades, more and more settlers made the trek across the Atlantic to Plymouth, which gradually grew into a prosperous shipbuilding and fishing center. In 1691, Plymouth was incorporated into the new Massachusetts Bay Association, ending its history as an independent colony.
Subject: December 19, 1998: President Clinton impeached
After nearly 14 hours of debate, the House of Representatives approves two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, charging him with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. Clinton, the second president in American history to be impeached, vowed to finish his term.
In November 1995, Clinton began an affair with Monica Lewinsky, a 21-year-old unpaid intern. Over the course of a year and a half, the president and Lewinsky had nearly a dozen sexual encounters in the White House. In April 1996, Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon. That summer, she first confided in Pentagon co-worker Linda Tripp about her sexual relationship with the president. In 1997, with the relationship over, Tripp began secretly to record conversations with Lewinsky, in which Lewinsky gave Tripp details about the affair.
In December, lawyers for Paula Jones, who was suing the president on sexual harassment charges, subpoenaed Lewinsky. In January 1998, allegedly under the recommendation of the president, Lewinsky filed an affidavit in which she denied ever having had a sexual relationship with him. Five days later, Tripp contacted the office of Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, to talk about Lewinsky and the tapes she made of their conversations. Tripp, wired by FBI agents working with Starr, met with Lewinsky again, and on January 16, Lewinsky was taken by FBI agents and U.S. attorneys to a hotel room where she was questioned and offered immunity if she cooperated with the prosecution. A few days later, the story broke, and Clinton publicly denied the allegations, saying, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky."
In late July, lawyers for Lewinsky and Starr worked out a full-immunity agreement covering both Lewinsky and her parents, all of whom Starr had threatened with prosecution. On August 6, Lewinsky appeared before the grand jury to begin her testimony, and on August 17 President Clinton testified. Contrary to his testimony in the Paula Jones sexual-harassment case, President Clinton acknowledged to prosecutors from the office of the independent counsel that he had had an extramarital affair with Ms. Lewinsky.
In four hours of closed-door testimony, conducted in the Map Room of the White House, Clinton spoke live via closed-circuit television to a grand jury in a nearby federal courthouse. He was the first sitting president ever to testify before a grand jury investigating his conduct. That evening, President Clinton also gave a four-minute televised address to the nation in which he admitted he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky. In the brief speech, which was wrought with legalisms, the word "sex" was never spoken, and the word "regret" was used only in reference to his admission that he misled the public and his family.
Less than a month later, on September 9, Kenneth Starr submitted his report and 18 boxes of supporting documents to the House of Representatives. Released to the public two days later, the Starr Report outlined a case for impeaching Clinton on 11 grounds, including perjury, obstruction of justice, witness-tampering, and abuse of power, and also provided explicit details of the sexual relationship between the president and Ms. Lewinsky. On October 8, the House authorized a wide-ranging impeachment inquiry, and on December 11, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment. On December 19, the House impeached Clinton.
On January 7, 1999, in a congressional procedure not seen since the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, the trial of President Clinton got underway in the Senate. As instructed in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (William Rehnquist at this time) was sworn in to preside, and the senators were sworn in as jurors.
Five weeks later, on February 12, the Senate voted on whether to remove Clinton from office. The president was acquitted on both articles of impeachment. The prosecution needed a two-thirds majority to convict but failed to achieve even a bare majority. Rejecting the first charge of perjury, 45 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted "not guilty," and on the charge of obstruction of justice the Senate was split 50-50. After the trial concluded, President Clinton said he was "profoundly sorry" for the burden his behavior imposed on Congress and the American people.
Subject: December 20, 1957: Elvis Presley is drafted
On this day in 1957, while spending the Christmas holidays at Graceland, his newly purchased Tennessee mansion, rock-and-roll star Elvis Presley receives his draft notice for the United States Army.
With a suggestive style--one writer called him "Elvis the Pelvis"--a hit movie, Love Me Tender, and a string of gold records including "Heartbreak Hotel," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel," Presley had become a national icon, and the world's first bona fide rock-and-roll star, by the end of 1956. As the Beatles' John Lennon once famously remarked: "Before Elvis, there was nothing." The following year, at the peak of his career, Presley received his draft notice for a two-year stint in the army. Fans sent tens of thousands of letters to the army asking for him to be spared, but Elvis would have none of it. He received one deferment--during which he finished working on his movie King Creole--before being sworn in as an army private in Memphis on March 24, 1958.
After six months of basic training--including an emergency leave to see his beloved mother, Gladys, before she died in August 1958--Presley sailed to Europe on the USS General Randall. For the next 18 months, he served in Company D, 32nd Tank Battalion, 3rd Armor Corps in Friedberg, Germany, where he attained the rank of sergeant. For the rest of his service, he shared an off-base residence with his father, grandmother and some Memphis friends. After working during the day, Presley returned home at night to host frequent parties and impromptu jam sessions. At one of these, an army buddy of Presley's introduced him to 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, whom Elvis would marry some years later. Meanwhile, Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, continued to release singles recorded before his departure, keeping the money rolling in and his most famous client fresh in the public's mind. Widely praised for not seeking to avoid the draft or serve domestically, Presley was seen as a model for all young Americans. After he got his polio shot from an army doctor on national TV, vaccine rates among the American population shot from 2 percent to 85 percent by the time of his discharge on March 2, 1960.
Subject: December 21, 1988: Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Scotland
On this day in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York explodes in midair over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members aboard, as well as 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. A bomb hidden inside an audio cassette player detonated in the cargo area when the plane was at an altitude of 31,000 feet. The disaster, which became the subject of Britain's largest criminal investigation, was believed to be an attack against the United States. One hundred eighty nine of the victims were American.
Islamic terrorists were accused of planting the bomb on the plane while it was at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Authorities suspected the attack was in retaliation for either the 1986 U.S. air strikes against Libya, in which leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's young daughter was killed along with dozens of other people, or a 1988 incident, in which the U.S. mistakenly shot down an Iran Air commercial flight over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people.
Sixteen days before the explosion over Lockerbie, the U.S. embassy in Helsinki, Finland, received a call warning that a bomb would be placed on a Pan Am flight out of Frankfurt. There is controversy over how seriously the U.S. took the threat and whether travelers should have been alerted, but officials later said that the connection between the call and the bomb was coincidental.
In 1991, following a joint investigation by the British authorities and the F.B.I., Libyan intelligence agents Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah were indicted for murder; however, Libya refused to hand over the suspects to the U.S. Finally, in 1999, in an effort to ease United Nations sanctions against his country, Qaddafi agreed to turn over the two men to Scotland for trial in the Netherlands using Scottish law and prosecutors. In early 2001, al-Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison and Fhimah was acquitted. Over the U.S. government's objections, Al-Megrahi was freed and returned to Libya in August 2009 after doctors determined that he had only months to live.
In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing, but didn't express remorse. The U.N. and U.S. lifted sanctions against Libya and Libya agreed to pay each victim's family approximately $8 million in restitution. In 2004, Libya's prime minister said that the deal was the "price for peace," implying that his country only took responsibility to get the sanctions lifted, a statement that infuriated the victims' families. Pan Am Airlines, which went bankrupt three years after the bombing, sued Libya and later received a $30 million settlement.
Subject: December 22, 1956: First gorilla born in captivity
On this day in 1956, a baby gorilla named Colo enters the world at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, becoming the first-ever gorilla born in captivity. Weighing in at approximately 4 pounds, Colo, a western lowland gorilla whose name was a combination of Columbus and Ohio, was the daughter of Millie and Mac, two gorillas captured in French Cameroon, Africa, who were brought to the Columbus Zoo in 1951. Before Colo's birth, gorillas found at zoos were caught in the wild, often by brutal means. In order to capture a gorilla when it was young and therefore still small enough to handle, hunters frequently had to kill the gorilla's parents and other family members.
Gorillas are peaceful, intelligent animals, native to Africa, who live in small groups led by one adult male, known as a silverback. There are three subspecies of gorilla: western lowland, eastern lowland and mountain. The subspecies are similar and the majority of gorillas in captivity are western lowland. Gorillas are vegetarians whose only natural enemy is the humans who hunt them. On average, a gorilla lives to 35 years in the wild and 50 years in captivity.
At the time Colo was born, captive gorillas often never learned parenting skills from their own parents in the wild, so the Columbus Zoo built her a nursery and she was reared by zookeepers. In the years since Colo's arrival, zookeepers have developed habitats that simulate a gorilla's natural environment and many captive-born gorillas are now raised by their mothers. In situations where this doesn't work, zoos have created surrogacy programs, in which the infants are briefly cared for by humans and then handed over to other gorillas to raise.
Colo, who generated enormous public interest and is still alive today, went on to become a mother, grandmother, and in 1996, a great-grandmother to Timu, the first surviving infant gorilla conceived by artificial insemination. Timu gave birth to her first baby in 2003.
Today, there are approximately 750 gorillas in captivity around the world and an estimated 100,000 lowland gorillas (and far fewer mountain gorillas) remaining in the wild. Most zoos are active in captive breeding programs and have agreed not to buy gorillas born in the wild. Since Colo's birth, 30 gorillas have been born at the Columbus Zoo alone.
Subject: December 23, 1888: Van Gogh chops off ear
On this day in 1888, Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, suffering from severe depression, cuts off the lower part of his left ear with a razor while staying in Arles, France. He later documented the event in a painting titled Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. Today, Van Gogh is regarded as an artistic genius and his masterpieces sell for record-breaking prices; however, during his lifetime, he was a poster boy for tortured starving artists and sold only one painting.
Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, in the Netherlands. He had a difficult, nervous personality and worked unsuccessfully at an art gallery and then as a preacher among poor miners in Belgium. In 1880, he decided to become an artist. His work from this period--the most famous of which is The Potato Eaters (1885)--is dark and somber and reflective of the experiences he had among peasants and impoverished miners.
In 1886, Van Gogh moved to Paris where his younger brother Theo, with whom he was close, lived. Theo, an art dealer, supported his brother financially and introduced him to a number of artists, including Paul Gauguin, Camille Pisarro and Georges Seurat. Influenced by these and other painters, Van Gogh's own artistic style lightened up and he began using more color.
In 1888, Van Gogh rented a house in Arles in the south of France, where he hoped to found an artists' colony and be less of a burden to his brother. In Arles, Van Gogh painted vivid scenes from the countryside as well as still-lifes, including his famous sunflower series. Gauguin came to stay with him in Arles and the two men worked together for almost two months. However, tensions developed and on December 23, in a fit of dementia, Van Gogh threatened his friend with a knife before turning it on himself and mutilating his ear lobe. Afterward, he allegedly wrapped up the ear and gave it to a prostitute at a nearby brothel. Following that incident, Van Gogh was hospitalized in Arles and then checked himself into a mental institution in Saint-Remy for a year. During his stay in Saint-Remy, he fluctuated between periods of madness and intense creativity, in which he produced some of his best and most well-known works, including Starry Night and Irises.
In May 1890, Van Gogh moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, where he continued to be plagued by despair and loneliness. On July 27, 1890, he shot himself and died two days later at age 37.
Subject: December 24, 1979: Soviet tanks roll into Afghanistan
On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, under the pretext of upholding the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of 1978.
As midnight approached, the Soviets organized a massive military airlift into Kabul, involving an estimated 280 transport aircraft and three divisions of almost 8,500 men each. Within a few days, the Soviets had secured Kabul, deploying a special assault unit against Tajberg Palace. Elements of the Afghan army loyal to Hafizullah Amin put up a fierce, but brief resistance.
On December 27, Babrak Karmal, exiled leader of the Parcham faction of the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), was installed as Afghanistan’s new head of government. And Soviet ground forces entered Afghanistan from the north.
The Soviets, however, were met with fierce resistance when they ventured out of their strongholds into the countryside. Resistance fighters, called mujahidin, saw the Christian or atheist Soviets controlling Afghanistan as a defilement of Islam as well as of their traditional culture. Proclaiming a "jihad"(holy war), they gained the support of the Islamic world.
The mujahidin employed guerrilla tactics against the Soviets. They would attack or raid quickly, then disappear into the mountains, causing great destruction without pitched battles. The fighters used whatever weapons they could grab from the Soviets or were given by the United States.
The tide of the war turned with the 1987 introduction of U.S. shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. The Stingers allowed the mujahidin to shoot down Soviet planes and helicopters on a regular basis.
New Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev decided it was time to get out. Demoralized and with no victory in sight, Soviet forces started withdrawing in 1988. The last Soviet soldier crossed back across the border on February 15, 1989.
It was the first Soviet military expedition beyond the Eastern bloc since World War II and marked the end of a period of improving relations (known as détente) in the Cold War. Subsequently, the SALT II arms treaty was shelved and the U.S. began to re-arm.
Fifteen thousand Soviet soldiers were killed.
The long-term impact of the invasion and subsequent war was profound. First, the Soviets never recovered from the public relations and financial losses, which significantly contributed to the fall of the Soviet empire in 1991. Secondly, the war created a breeding ground for terrorism and the rise of Osama bin Laden.
Subject: December 25, 1914: The Christmas Truce
Just after midnight on Christmas morning, the majority of German troops engaged in World War I cease firing their guns and artillery and commence to sing Christmas carols. At certain points along the eastern and western fronts, the soldiers of Russia, France, and Britain even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.
At the first light of dawn, many of the German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man's-land, calling out "Merry Christmas" in their enemies' native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.
The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. In 1915, the bloody conflict of World War I erupted in all its technological fury, and the concept of another Christmas Truce became unthinkable.
Subject: December 26, 1946: Bugsy Siegel opens Flamingo Hotel
On December 26, 1946, in Las Vegas, Nevada, mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel opens The Pink Flamingo Hotel & Casino at a total cost of $6 million. The 40-acre facility wasn't complete and Siegel was hoping to raise some revenue with the grand opening.
Well-known singer and comedian Jimmy Durante headlined the entertainment, with music by Cuban band leader Xavier Cugat. Some of Siegel's Hollywood friends, including actors George Raft, George Sanders, Sonny Tufts and George Jessel were in attendance.
The grand opening, however, was a flop. Bad weather kept many other Hollywood guests from arriving. And because gamblers had no rooms at the hotel, they took their winnings and gambled elsewhere. The casino lost $300,000 in the first week of operation.
Siegel and his New York "partners" had invested $1 million in a property already under construction by Billy Wilkerson, owner of the Hollywood Reporter as well as some very popular nightclubs in the Sunset Strip. Wilkerson had wanted to recreate the Sunset Strip in Las Vegas, with a European style hotel with luxuious rooms, a spa, health club, showroom, golf course, nightclub and upscale restaurant. But he soon ran out of money due to the high cost of materials immediately after the war.
Siegel, who held a largest interest in the racing publication Trans America Wire, was drawn to Las Vegas in 1945 by his interest in legalized gambling and off-track betting. He purchased The El Cortez hotel for $600,000 and later sold it for a $166,000 profit.
Siegel and his organized crime buddies used the profits to influence Wilkerson to accept new partners. Siegel took over the project and supervised the building, naming it after his girlfriend Virginia Hill, whose nickname was "The Flamingo" because of her red hair and long legs.
Two weeks after the grand opening, the Flamingo closed down. It re-opened March 1, 1947, as The Fabulous Flamingo. Siegel forced Wilkerson out in April, and by May, the resort reported a profit, but it wasn't enough to save Siegel.
Convinced that Siegel wasn't giving them a "square count," it is widely believed that his partners in organized crime had him killed while he was reading the paper June 20, 1947, at Hill's Beverly Hills mansion. Hill was in Paris, having flown the coop after a fight with Siegel 10 days prior. The crime remains unsolved to this day.
Surviving a series of name and ownership changes, the hotel is known today as The Flamingo Las Vegas, owned and operated by Harrah's Entertainment. The property offers 3,626 hotel rooms and a 77,000-square-foot casino.