1533: Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro and his army arrive in the Inca Empire. As with his more famous (in the U.S.) compadre Hernando Cortez, he is not scouring the Andean empire for its archeological treasures per se, but for its incredible treasures, period. The Incas are particularly rich in silver, and the quantity of plunder that makes its way back to enrich the coffers of Spain also sets in motion an inflationary spiral that nearly wrecks the economies of Europe.
1719: Birth of Leopold Mozart (d.1787), father and “Chief Agent” of his child prodigy son, Wolfgang Amadeus.
1763: Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon begin surveying the line that now bears their name. The survey was a Crown solution to a long-simmering border dispute between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Its primary goal was to clearly define the demarcation between Maryland the Pennsylvania in the western watershed of the Chesapeake, and to separate out the “south counties” of Pennsylvania that then became the separate colony of Delaware. When Pennsylvania abolished slavery, the Mason-Dixon Line and the Ohio River became the de facto border between slave and non-slave states. At that issue heated up in the mid-19th century, the line also came to represent the cultural divide between North and South. This survey was a direct result of Creasap’s War (also known as the Conojocular War) between PA & MD thirty years prior.
1775: American Revolutionary hero and Colonel of New Hampshire’s Green Mountain Boys, Ethan Allen leads a night attack against Montreal. Unfortunately for Allen, not only did the commander of the British garrison get early word of the attack, but half of the American force fails to cross the St. Lawrence River in execution of their plan. Outnumbered, out-gunned, and out-foxed, Allen was compelled to surrender, remaining imprisoned through 1778.
1777: 16 months after declaring independence from Great Britain, the Continental Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation as its governing document.
1840: Birth of French sculptor August Rodin (d.1917).
1851: Publication of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick.
1855: Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone becomes the first European to see Victoria Falls. He becomes “lost” a decade and a half later. He described the falls themselves, over 5,000 feet wide; it is the opening to the Zambezi Gorge; the Gorge, zig-zagging its way southward.
1862: Acting in his legal capacity of Commander and Chief, but ‘way out of his depth as a military commander, President Lincoln personally approves General Ambrose Burnside’s plans to capture Richmond; in particular, Burnside’s line of attack across the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg.
1866: Birth of Sun Yat Sen (d.1925), Chinese revolutionary whose pursuit of “nationalism, democracy, and the people’s livelihood” led to the final overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912. He is one of the few post-dynastic Chinese who remains not only respected but revered on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. His chief protégé, Chiang Kai Shek carried his legacy into the 1970s. Both the Nationalists and Communists claim him as the founder of the modern Chinese state.
1869: Inauguration of commercial shipping traffic through the Suez Canal.
1871: The National Rifle Association is chartered by the State of New York.
1884: The Berlin Conference opens. Beginning as a forum to establish trade regulations in Africa, it quickly turned into a scramble to define Europe’s burgeoning colonial interests in the continent. The conference’s General Act focused on the territories in and around the Congo River and marked out distinct spheres of influence and control for the colonial powers. By the end of the 19th Century, only Liberia, Orange Free State, Transvaal and Abyssinia remained independent from direct colonial rule.
1887: Birth of Bernard Montgomery (d.1976), British Field Marshal during the Second World War, hero of El Alamein, Sicily, Normandy, and the British drive against the German army across the northern tier of Europe.
1889: Birth of Jawaharlal Nehru (d.1964), first Prime Minister of India. Much of the leadership of today’s Congress Party are direct descendants of Nehru.
1891: Birth of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (d.1944), the Desert Fox.
1901: The Riker Torpedo Racer sets a world speed record for electric cars at 57 mph.
1910: Aviation pioneer Eugene Ely makes the first takeoff of an aeroplane from a ship, launching off of a specially constructed wooden platform over the forward turrets of USS Birmingham (CL-2) right here in Hampton Roads, in the anchorage just off of the Hampton Bar. The natural tension between aviators and ship drivers was made manifest from this very beginning event, with Ely wanting to delay his launch to wait for better weather conditions (i.e., more natural wind and better visibility over the anchored ship) and the Captain impatient to get underway on time to get on with his other missions. Without mutual consultation, both parties finally decided to press on with what they needed to do: Ely fired up his flying machine, much to the consternation of the Officer of the Deck, who had already ordered up steam and the anchor raised. Realizing he had to launch right now or lose the opportunity, Ely ordered the wheel chocks pulled as he wound up the engine to full power. The plane powered down the slightly inclined ramp, continuing down and bouncing off the water as it gathered airspeed, breaking off one of its wheels in the process. Ely continued to fly the plane and recovered in the large meadow just south of Willoughby Spit, an area now known as Chambers Field. Ely’s demonstration captured the imagination of naval leadership, and he reprised the feat with a second test two months later aboard the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) anchored in San Francisco Bay, with the added twist of making the first landing aboard a ship, before turning it around on the deck and taking off again.
1920: First General Assembly meeting of the League of Nations.
1920: The “Free City of Danzig” is formed under the protection of the League of Nations. It was a city-state under the protection of the League of Nations between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) and nearly 200 other small localities in the surrounding areas.
1927: The Holland Tunnel opens to traffic, becoming the first tunnel linking New York and New Jersey.
1933: After sixteen years of increasingly futile opposition to the entrenchment and bureaucratization of the Bolsheviks into Russian society and government, the United States finally recognizes the Soviet Union. The intelligentsia in the United States had been lobbying for this recognition for years, epitomized by muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens visiting Russia in 1921 and coming back gushing, “I have seen the future and it works.” Pretty much a test case for Stalin’s amusement at the “useful idiots” in the Western press. Steffens recanted his enthusiasm as the New Deal took hold in the States;
1940: The Coventry Blitz– over 500 Luftwaffe sorties throughout the night pulverize the ancient factory town of Coventry, including its famous Cathedral.
1944: After thirteen attempts over the preceding five years, British forces finally sink the German battleship Tirpitz, anchored in a Norwegian fjord. The ship was sister to the Bismarck, and was expected to perform the same commerce raiding mission, but it only engaged in a single offensive combat action, a shore bombardment. After the loss of the Bismarck, Hitler lost faith in the surface navy and confined the ship to the safety of occupied Norway’s fjords. Even though it rarely moved, the ship remained a force in being that demanded a significant portion of the Royal Navy be dedicated to keeping it blocked in the fjords or, in the event of a breakout, taking her under fire and sending her to the bottom. As the war played out, Tirpitz took multiple hits over the years from a variety of bombs, torpedoes and mines, but was always repaired, moved, and re-camouflaged, necessitating another round of reconnaissance and subsequent attacks. The strike that finally put her under came from 24 Avro Lancaster bombers flying from a base in Scotland. The ship capsized but stayed afloat long enough for rescuers to cut out and save 80 of the 1000 men trapped in the hull.
1945: Working under the cover of secrecy, mostly to avoid the awkwardness of having formerly mortal enemies working for the US Government, 88 German rocket scientists are spirited from their cells in occupied Germany and into the United States. US officials remain cagey about where they went, saying things like, “They volunteered to come here,” and avoiding mention that they remained in “protective custody” while they performed work on technology of “vital national interest.” The scientists were specifically tasked to develop a rocket program faster, farther and better than the Soviets could get with THEIR captured Nazis. The two groups remained a fascinating subtext of the US-Soviet space race for decades.
1960: USS George Washington (SSBN-598) submerges to begin her first Polaris deterrent patrol. She rises to the surface again 66 days later. The original US FBM submarine force consisted of 41 Polaris submarines, in five sub-classes (George Washington, Ethan Allen, Lafayette, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin), that were authorized between 1957 and l963. Through several rounds of modifications, most of these submarines were adapted to handle later versions of the Polaris SLBM (A2, A3 and A4) and some were modified to handle the Poseidon (C3) SLBM. Twelve of the James Madison- and Ben Franklin-class boats were modified the late 1970s and early 1980s to handle the long range Trident I C4 SLBMs.
1961: President John F. Kennedy, in order to avoid an open-ended commitment of combat forces, orders an increased contingent of military advisors to aid the government of South Vietnam.
1969: Launch of Apollo 12, with astronauts Pete Conrad, Richard Gordon and Alan Bean. The Saturn V rocket was hit by lightning during the ascent phase, tripping a circuit breaker and leaving the command module without power for a short time.
1981: Space Shuttle Columbia launches on STS-2, its second mission and the first time a man-rated spacecraft is used twice. The ship went on to fly a total of 28 missions, logging 300 days on orbit, 4808 revolutions, before disintegrating during re-entry, February 1, 2003.
1990: Newly reunited Germany signs a treaty with Poland confirming the post-WW2 Oder-Neisse Line as the permanent border between the two countries.