1554: Death of Lady Jane Grey, cousin of Edward VI (Henry VIII’s son and heir), who held the throne of England for nine days based on the deathbed will of the 15 year old Edward. The will itself, her attendant claim, and the stronger counter-claim by Henry’s daughter Mary triggered a succession crisis that ended in a conviction of treason against both Lady Grey and her husband Lord Guilford Dudley. I won’t strain your brain (or mine) with all the convoluted iterations of possible succession alternatives and competing claims, but today’s execution launched yet another round of Protestant-Catholic struggle and years of deadly intrigue surrounding England’s throne.
1733: British General James Oglethorpe settles the 13th British colony in North America, Georgia, specifically formed to be a haven for Britain’s poor, especially those confined in debtor’s prison.
1775: Completely stymied by the continuing unrest in its primary New World port, the British Parliament formally declares Massachusetts to be in rebellion.
1809(a): Birth of Abraham Lincoln (d.1865), born in a log cabin, in Kentucky.
1809(b): Birth of British naturalist Charles Darwin (d.1882), whose observations of flora, fauna and fossils during the 4 ½ year circumnavigation voyage of HMS Beagle led him to develop the theory of natural selection as the means by which species adapted to their environments. He followed up his initial publication of On the Origin of Species with the explosive culmination of evolutionary theory in The Descent of Man.
1812: Massachusetts Governor Eldridge Gerry signs a redistricting bill designed to favor his Democratic-Republican political party. The unusual shape of the ensuing districts, one in particular that was shaped like a salamander, prompted widespread derision and anger, and eventually the coining of a new verb to describe the act: gerrymandering.
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.
1847: Birth of Thomas Alva Edison (d.1931), the brilliant inventor dubbed “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” who held 1,093 U.S. patents on a plethora of gadgets and processes that in many respects define the 20th century. He began his professional life as a telegrapher, becoming very familiar with the physics and practical application of electricity, which in turn fed his mind with scores of ideas, many of which paid off handsomely. A couple examples: the stock market ticker, the kinetoscope motion picture process, phonographic sound recording and, of course, the carbon-filament incandescent light bulb. One of his most important works was the establishment of his industrial research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he and a core staff pursued any and every lead enroute to the next big thing. And they found it.
1893: Birth of Omar N. Bradley (d.1981), “The Soldier’s General” in World War II. Patton’s deputy in North Africa, he vaulted over his former boss to lead the American armies swarming ashore at Normandy. After passage of the National Security Act of 1948, he was named the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had the distinction of being the United States’ last surviving 5-star general.
1906: Launch of HMS Dreadnaught, the first modern battleship, whose innovations were so overwhelming that she immediately made all earlier warships completely obsolete. The scramble to compensate for Britain’s sudden advantage triggered a naval armaments race- particularly with Germany- that was one of the proximate triggers for the Great War eight years hence. Dreadnaught’s technical innovations centered on her design as an “all big gun” platform: ten 12” guns mounted in five turrets with only minimal secondary armament, as opposed to the conventional bristling of multiple layers of secondary and tertiary guns. She was also the first warship to be powered by steam turbines, giving her a speed in excess of 21 knots, unheard of in an age of 12 knot capital ships. For naval historians, HMS Dreadnaught set the marker that decisively defined the end of the transition from sail to steam, and set the standard for all the naval innovations to come. There is the pre-Dreadnaught era, and the Dreadnaught era, which lasted to the rise of aircraft carriers in the early 1930s.
1934: Birth of TV actress Tina Louise, one half of the eternal question for adolescent boys: Ginger or Mary-Ann?
1935: Crash of the U.S. Navy rigid airship USS Macon (ZRS-5) off the coast of Big Sur, California. The Navy was heavily invested in the technology of lighter-than-air vessels for reconnaissance and patrol, but the loss of Macon and the earlier losses of USS Akron (ZRS-4) and USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) sealed their fate. Macon and Akron both carried the F-9C Sparrowhawk fighter for what was termed “parasitic protection.” The fighter was dropped in flight, and at the completion of the mission recovered aboard the airship via a strong hook and trapeze assembly that would pull it inside the envelope for servicing and storage.
1945: Birth of Mia Farrow, star of “Rosemary’s Baby”.
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.
1996: Chess Grand Master Garry Kasparov loses his first match to the IBM Deep Blue supercomputer.