1468: Death of Johannes Gutenberg (b.1398), who invented re-usable, movable type for printing presses, launching an information revolution. In 1455 he published his first major project, the Holy Bible, of which about 180 were produced.
1488: Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz lands at Mossel Bay in what is now South Africa, becoming the first European to round the Cape of Good Hope and sail into the Indian Ocean.
1637: Peak day of the world’s first recorded speculative bubble, the “Tulip Mania” of 1636-37. Plenty of money evaporated over the next few weeks.
1756: Birth of Aaron Burr (d.1836), one of the key second-level leaders of the American Revolution: soldier, New York politician, and Thomas Jefferson’s Vice President. Best remembered today for the duel he fought with former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who died of his wounds.
1793: Death of New England farmer Samuel Whittemore (b.1696), who, at age 78 was the eldest of the original cadre of Massachusetts militia who fought the British Regulars on their retrograde from the battles of Lexington and Concord on 19th April, 1775. Shot, bayonetted, beaten, and left for dead, he recovered from his wounds and lived to the ripe old age of 96.
1794: French National Assembly abolishes slavery throughout the territories of the French Republic.
1865: After passage in the House of Representatives, President Abraham Lincoln signs a bill for the 13th Amendment, ending involuntary servitude in the United States, and sending it to the Several States for ratification. Illinois ratified it the same day, and 10 others followed suit in the first week. Ratification came into force in December, 1865. To date, 36 states have formally ratified the amendment, the latest being Mississippi in March of 1995 (although the state failed to notify the Director of the Federal Register until February of 2013. ).
1839: Birth of German aviation pioneer Hugo Junkers.
1869: In Victoria, Australia, discovery of the largest single piece of natural gold in history, the “Welcome Stranger” alluvial nugget. The piece weighed in at 2,283 ounces (142.7 pounds), and measured roughly 24 x 12 inches. It was discovered by Cornish miners Richard Oates and John Deason, who eventually were paid just under 9,500 pounds sterling for their efforts.
1885: Belgian King Leopold II establishes Congo Free State as his personal possession, managed by the International African Association, of which he was the sole director and shareholder. The association thence began a systematic exploitation of the Congo River basin’s natural resources, which in short order made Leopold a very, very rich man. It also made him responsible for the systematic exploitation and abuse of Congo’s human resources, creating a system of forced labor that pitted white against black in an increasingly destructive spiral of abuse and brutality unequaled in the colonial world. An illustrative example is the contemporary collage (below) of African workers who failed to meet their rubber harvesting quotas being punished by the loss of their hands. The misery of the Congo became the basis for Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, which in turn was used by the Congo Reform Association to expose the abuses perpetrated by Leopold’s company.
1895: Birth of George Herman Ruth, Jr. (d.1948), the great slugger for the New York Yankees, NOT the Boston Red Stockings.
1899: Only months after our prying the islands from Spanish colonial rule, Philippine nationalists rebel against nascent American rule, opening the Philippine Insurrection. The war officially lasts through July, 1902, but at that point the rebellion simply moved underground, becoming a terrorist movement that simmered and flared for two years. In April, 1904, the Moro Rebellion broke into open warfare against American occupation forces, becoming a bitter jungle war lasting through June, 1913.
1899: The U.S. Senate ratifies the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the “Splendid Little War” between Spain and the United States.
1901: Birth of Clark Gable (d.1960). The fullest expression of that life came in his marriage to actress Carole Lombard, who, when they first wed, was making much more than his own studio salary, at least until Gone With the Wind took off. In 1942 Lombard was killed in a plane crash near Las Vegas on her way home from a War Bond tour. Gable was devastated, and joined the Army Air Corps to become a commissioned gunner and instructor B-17s. He flew 5 combat missions while making combat training and documentary movies.
1902: Birth of Charles Lindbergh (d.1974).
1906: Birth of American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh (d.1997), whose patience in the search for “Planet X” came to fruition on the 18thof February, 1930.
1906: Birth of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (d.1945), whose incisive observations on the nature of the Christian in civil society are cited to this day. One of his core theses was the fight against what he called “cheap grace,” a philosophy that fails to comprehend the extraordinary price paid for God’s real gift of grace. He was an outspoken leader of the German church resistance to the Nazi movement. Bonhoeffer was arrested in April of 1943 as part of bureaucratic infighting between the Abwher (of which he was an agent, and active participant in plots against Hitler) and the SS. After multiple prison transfers, he stood before a kangaroo court, was found guilty, and was executed by hanging only three weeks before the end of the war.
1912: Birth of Eva Braun (d.1945), mistress of Adolf Hitler and for 40 hours in the Fuhrerbunker under Berlin, his wife.
1913: Birth of civil rights activist Rosa Parks (d.2005), whose refusal, in December of 1955, to sit in the back of the bus finally sparked the kind of widespread outrage that led to the burgeoning and ultimately successful civil rights movement .
1913: Final ratification of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, full text of which reads: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”
1917: The United States breaks diplomatic relations with Imperial Germany, the day after the Germans announce resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in the waters surrounding Great Britain.
1919: Sensing a tremendous business opportunity, silent movie stars Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin join with director D.W. Griffith to create United Artists, the first comprehensive movie production studio. The studio has gone through a number of ownership and management re-shuffling over the years, and is currently headed by Tom Cruise. Of the hundreds of films produced and distributed by UA, you might recognize The Great Dictator (1941), African Queen (1952), High Noon (1952), The Great Escape (1962), The Pink Panther (1963), and Goldfinger (1964). More recently, the studio released Valkyrie (2008), starring its owner in the lead role.
1924: Death of President Woodrow Wilson (b.1856), incapacitated since collapsing of exhaustion in September, 1919. He further suffered a debilitating stroke on October 2nd that year, leaving him paralyzed on the left side and blind in the left eye. From that point, he was essentially sequestered from seeing anyone except his wife and doctor. The isolation most particularly affected the Vice President and Cabinet officers, who carried on their duties with Presidential relations carefully stage-managed by his wife, Edith. His incapacity was a primary argument in support of the 25th Amendment.
1952: Death of Britain’s King George VI (b.1895). Although his declining health from lung cancer was well known, his sudden death at age 57 came as a shock to the nation. His daughter Elizabeth, now suddenly Queen Regent, was out of the country at the time.
1958: After a mid-air collision with its F-86 escort during a night navigation mission, a damaged USAF B-47 jettisons its 7,600 pound Mk-15 hydrogen bomb into the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Tybee Island, Georgia. The crew safely recovered their aircraft at Hunter AAF, but the bomb itself has never been found, despite several exhaustive search efforts. Today it lurks in conspiratorial folklore as The Tybee Bomb.
1959: Deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and Big Bopper Richardson in a plane crash in Iowa.
1971: Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell land their lunar module Antares on the Moon’s Fra Mauro highlands, originally selected for the near-disaster of Apollo 13. Command Module pilot Stuart Roosa remained in lunar orbit aboard Kitty Hawk.
1979: Ayatola Ruhollah Khomeini returns to Iran after 15 years of exile in France. Rapturous crowds meet him wherever he goes, at least initially, but within months the cold hand of the Islamic Revolution will begin to choke the life out of Persian society.
1993: Death of American tennis star and Richmond, Virginia native Arthur Ashe (b.1943), winner of not only three Grand Slam titles, but also individual titles at Wimbledon, the US, French and Australian Open tournaments. After retiring from tennis, he became an outspoken advocate for ongoing civil rights issues both in the United States and internationally, particularly during South Africa’s long return from apartheid. He died from complications created during his second open heart surgery, when he was transfused with blood tainted with the AIDS virus. During his decline, his graciousness and lack of public bitterness over his fate was an inspiration to millions.
2003: After a two week-long science mission, Space Shuttle Columbia, the original orbiter in the fleet, disintegrates on re-entry into the atmosphere, killing all 7 astronauts aboard. After completion of the mishap investigation, NASA decided to terminate the Shuttle program in favor of a newly designed Constellation system. You may not have known that Columbia weighed around 8000 pounds more than the other orbiters, and was thus not suited for high inclination missions. She was also not fitted with an ISS-compatible air lock, so she was never used for an ISS servicing mission, but assumed primary duties for science missions and satellite launches. Columbia flew 28 times, spending just over 300 days in orbit. Due to the annual proximity of the 17 spaceflight deaths of its astronauts, NASA commemorates their memory on January 27th.
2008: Death of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (b.1917), whose Transcendental Meditation techniques gained international fame when the Beatles took it up.