1468: Death of the real inventor of the Internet (#notAlGore) 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. The last sale of a complete Gutenberg Bible was for $2,200,000 in 1978.
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.
1497: In Florence, Italy, the Dominican Friar Girolamo Savonarola instigates from the pulpit a quest for purity from “moral laxity,” calling for systematic destruction of any items that might lead to sin: mirrors, cosmetics, statuary, fine arts, books, and the like. He ordered the items piled in the central square, and on this day (Feb 7th) burned them to ashes, in what he called The Bonfire of the Vanities. He eventually became too much for Pope Alexander VI, who excommunicated him. After torture and confessions, Savonarola and two associates were executed, and their bodies burned in the very spot of the Bonfire of the Vanities. To avoid their remains becoming the relics of martyrs for his faithful followers, the corpses were re-burned twice, their bones crushed and thoroughly mixed in with the ashes of brushwood, and then thrown into the River Arno to eliminate the need for a grave site.
1587: Death of Mary, Queen of Scots, executed on allegations of treason against Elizabeth I. She was, in fact, deeply entwined in several conspiracies seeking to depose Elizabeth and re-impose Catholic rule to Great Britain. She had family connections to the French throne, who threatened military action but sent none. The more aggressive Spanish throne was actually deep in planning to perform multiple assassinations, including a regicide, in order to un-do Henry VIII’s work of creating a nominally Protestant kingdom. Elizabeth’s counselor, Francis Walsingham, penetrated the Spanish plans and captured documents signed by Mary that directly implicated her in the plot.
1637: Peak day of the world’s first recorded speculative bubble, the “Tulip Mania” of 1636-37. Huge amounts of money and wealth disappeared over the next few weeks.
1693: In the colony of Virginia, the College of William and Mary is granted a Royal Charter from King William III and Queen Mary II.
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.
1775: The British Parliament formally declares Massachusetts to be in rebellion.
1825: John Quincy Adams is elected to the Presidency by the House of Representatives. In the four-way race for president, none of the other three candidates was able to secure a majority of electoral votes. Adams was actually second in the electoral count behind Andrew Jackson, who had a plurality, but not the required majority, thus sending the election to the House.
1895: Birth of George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr., the pitcher and home run king for the New York Yankees, NOT the Boston Red Stockings (ha,ha).
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 jungle war lasting through June, 1913.
1904: First shots of the Russo-Japanese War, a torpedo attack by Japanese warships against the Russian fleet anchored at Port Arthur, Manchuria. The bitter 18 month conflict centered on Russian desires for a warm-water seaport for their Pacific fleet, and the Japanese Empire’s equal determination to prevent such a force from establishing a presence so near the Japan.
1906(b): Birth of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (d.1945), whose 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, was found guilty, and was executed by hanging only three weeks before the end of the war.
1913: Birth of civil rights activist Rosa Parks , whose refusal, in December of 1955, to sit in the back of the bus sparked the burgeoning civil rights movement.
1913: Final ratification of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. Full text: “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.
1924: Death of President Woodrow Wilson, 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. 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.
1942: Continuing their South Pacific movements, Japan initiates an invasion of Singapore.
1952: Death of Britain’s King George VI. 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.
1959: The Soviet Union launches the R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile- the world’s first- creating yet another layer of technical anxiety and competition between themselves and the U.S. The launch was the core issue in the “missile gap” controversy that dominated the 1960 presidential election between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy.
1964: The Beatles perform their first gig on the Ed Sullivan Show.