69 A.D.: Roman Legions in Germania Superior (present-day Alsace region) refuse to swear allegiance to the Emperor Galba, instead casting their support for the accession of Vitellius, whose short reign (April-December of this year) made him the third in a uniquely turbulent period of Roman history known as The Year of Four Emperors, all of whom were powerful generals, and all vying for control of the post-Nero Roman throne by the power of the armies they commanded in the far-flung provinces of the Empire.
1527: Of the union of Church and State, the city government of Zurich arrests Felix Manz, co-founder of the Swiss Brethren Anabaptist movement (precursors to the Mennonites), and finds him guilty of heresy by his refusal to recant his demand for adult re-baptism after conversion. He suffers the prescribed punishment for the offense: death by drowning. The city authorities truss up his arms behind his back, tying them to a long stick lashed to his legs. They then row out into Lake Zurich and throw him over the side to his watery fate. Once dead, Zurich confiscated all his property, and buried his body in a local cemetery. Manz becomes the first martyr of the Radical Reformation, the movement that believed the Reformation was not moving fast enough. The irony of his death at the hands of other Protestants should not be lost.
1642: England’s King Charles I surrounds himself with soldiers and enters into the Chamber to arrest key Members, all of whom slipped away before the arrest could be made. The act infuriated a broad swath of the nobility and the larger body politic, and is widely considered the opening act of the English Civil War.
1759: Virginia planter and surveyor George Washington exchanges nuptial vows with Martha Dandridge Custis.
1772: The world’s first traveler’s cheques, are issued by the London Credit Exchange Company, for use in 90 cities in Continental Europe.
1773: First use in public worship of the venerable hymn, Amazing Grace, sung in the parish of its author, the Reverend John Newton, in Olney, England.
1776: Incensed by his being run out of his royal colonial capitol in Williamsburg, John Murray, the 4th Lord Dunmore and last Royal Governor of Virginia, orders the three ships of his refugee fleet to set fire to the waterfront buildings of Norfolk, Virginia. Using heated shot, the mission was a complete success, made even more successful by rebel forces finishing the job to prevent the seaport’s continued use by royalist forces. By the end of the day, virtually the entire city had burned to ashes. One of the few buildings that remained standing after the fire was Saint Paul’s Church, whose three-foot thick masonry walls simply absorbed the shot and withstood the flames all around. One of Lord Dunmore’s cannonballs remains lodged in a corner wall of the church.
1777: Building on his recent Christmas Eve success at Trenton, the Continental Army under General George Washington attacks and decisively defeats British Regulars at the Battle of Princeton (NJ). The battle is notable for two points in particular:
1) Washington himself, fearlessly rallying his faltering militia troops under withering fire until they slashed their way into the thick of the British contingent, shattering their effectiveness;
2) The post-battle decision by Lord Cornwallis to abandon southern New Jersey and fall back into the safety of New York.
Although Great Britain considered Trenton and Princeton as only minor losses, they in fact invigorated the army and citizens of the nascent American republic into believing the war could be won.
1778: Birth of explorer Zebulon Pike (d.1813), American brigadier general and explorer for whom Pikes Peak in Colorado was named. As a U.S. Army officer he led two expeditions under authority of President Thomas Jefferson through the Louisiana Purchase territory, first in 1805–1806 to reconnoiter the upper northern reaches of the Mississippi River, and then in 1806–1807 to explore the southwest to the fringes of the northern Spanish-colonial settlements of New Mexico and Texas. Pike’s expeditions coincided with other Jeffersonian expeditions, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Red River Expedition in 1806.
Pike’s second expedition crossed the Rocky Mountains into what is now southern Colorado, which led to his capture by the Spanish colonial authorities near Santa Fe, who sent Pike and his men to Chihuahua (present-day Mexico), for interrogation. Later in 1807, Pike and some of his men were escorted by the Spanish through Texas and released near American territory in Louisiana.
In 1810, Pike published an account of his expeditions, a book so popular that it was translated into several languages for publication in Europe. He later achieved the rank of brigadier general in the American Army and served during the War of 1812, until he was killed during the Battle of York in April 1813, outside the British colonial capital of Upper Canada.
1781: The Pennsylvania contingent of the Continental Army, suffering in winter quarters near Morristown, New Jersey, mutinies against its officers and General “Mad” Anthony Wayne over not only the dire living conditions in camp, but also for the failure of Pennsylvania legislature to provide current and adequate pay and some positive indication concerning the legal status of their enlistments, whose supposed three-year term was long expired. Other regiments sent in to suppress the insurrection agreed with their grievances and instead of suppressing, joined them instead. And here’s an interesting twist: during negotiations between the mutineers and Pennsylvania authorities, British Commanding General Sir Henry Clinton sent over an emissary who offered immediate full back pay to the Americans if they would join forces with the British army. Clinton, however, mis-judged the nature of the Continentals: they arrested the British delegation and sent them packing with the message that there was no way they would defect to the British side. By the end of the month, enlistment contracts were re-negotiated and the regiment marched to Trenton, where they were either discharged with back pay or re-enlisted for a $20 bounty. The Pennsylvania Line Mutiny was by far the most dangerous insurrection of the entire war, but its conclusion reinforced the resolve of Americans continuing fight for independence. Two of the formerly mutinous and re-formed Pennsylvania regiments participated in General Washington’s siege and victory at Yorktown, Virginia in October.
1795: Death of Josiah Wedgwood (b.1730), the British potter who pioneered not only the use of high-quality glazes on his works, but also direct marketing and factory production of his product lines. He was also a prominent abolitionist whose efforts laid much of the groundwork for the ultimately successful efforts of William Wilberforce in 1807.
1895: A French court-martial finds Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus guilty of espionage, strips him of his rank and sentences him to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island.
1804: After a vicious uprising against their French masters, and supported in part by the infant United States, the former plantation colony of Haiti declares its independence from France, becoming the Western Hemisphere’s second independent state and the first one governed as a free black republic.
1809: Birth of Louis Braille (d.1852), blinded in an accident as a child, Braille developed an alternative alphabet that enabled the blind to “read” with their sense of touch.
1823: Continuing the former Spanish government’s policy of emprasario land grants to encourage colonization of its Texas territory, the newly independent government of Mexico renews the grant of the late Moses Austin, in the name of his son, Stephen F. Austin. Austin receives title to a huge swath of land between San Antonio and the Gulf coast on the condition he will bring at least 300 families with him. He does, and The Old 300 become the leading edge of a flood of American immigrants into the endless Texas territory.
1863: Three months after announcing his intent to do so, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation, legally freeing slaves from their servitude in the states still in rebellion on this date.
1870: Construction begins on the Brooklyn Bridge. In a time of engineering superlatives, the Brooklyn Bridge set the standard for greatness. It remained the longest single span suspension bridge for twenty years after its opening.
1884: In London, founding of the Fabian Society, a collection of intellectuals who sought to create a socialist society by all means short of violent revolution. They named themselves after the Roman General Fabius, who used delaying tactics and attrition to wear down and defeat Carthaginian General Hannibal. The Fabians function as a left-wing think tank today, closely aligned with Britain’s Labour Party.
1885: Twenty-five industrialized nations adopt the concept of “standard time,” which we now know as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or “Zulu” time, from which all other clock times are derived, basing their local times on the concurrent establishment of 24 time zones worldwide.
1890: The city of Pasadena, California, hosts its first Tournament of Roses Parade.
1895: Birth of the pioneering aeronautical engineer and industrialist Leroy Grumman (d.1989) whose company built some of the most legendary aircraft in U.S. Navy history, including the F-6F Hellcat of WWII fame, and the A-6 Intruder and F-14 Tomcat that spearheaded Naval Aviation during the Cold War. The planes’ reputation for toughness earned them the nickname “Grumman Ironworks.”
1903: Death of Topsy the Elephant (b.(c)1870), electrocuted by Thomas Edison, using alternating current (part of the AC-DC “electricity wars” at the dawn of the electrical age. The circus elephant had in the preceding year killed three men and grievously wounded another, and the circus was concerned about how to safely put her down. Edison fed her a dose of 460 grams of potassium cyanide prior to sending 6,600 volts of electricity into her. She died in seconds, witnessed by around 1,500 people. Edison also made a short movie of the event, which can be found online.
1907: The first public New Year’s Eve celebration is held in the former Longacre Square in the middle of Manhattan. In 1906 and prior years, New Yorkers were completely sober and reflective as the calendar turned from one year to the next.
1909: The South American nation of Columbia recognizes the independence of its breakaway province, Panama.
1914: Industrialist Henry Ford announces that Ford Motor Company will initiate an 8-hour workday, with a minimum wage of $5.00 per day.
1919: At the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles, where the newly victorious Allies were busy carving up the spoils of the shattered Ottoman Empire, Emir Faisal, king of Greater Syria and Iraq, signs an agreement* with the head of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann, supporting Zionist efforts to create a Jewish homeland on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. This remarkable document suggests that the current troubles in that benighted region may not have been inevitable. Wikipedia extracted some key quotes, appended below:
“The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organization to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper.” (Letter by Emir Faisal to Felix Frankfurter, March 1919)
“The two main branches of the Semitic family, Arabs and Jews, understand one another, and I hope that as a result of interchange of ideas at the Peace Conference, which will be guided by ideals of self-determination and nationality, each nation will make definite progress towards the realization of its aspirations. Arabs are not jealous of Zionist Jews, and intend to give them fair play and the Zionist Jews have assured the Nationalist Arabs of their intention to see that they too have fair play in their respective areas. Turkish intrigue in Palestine has raised jealousy between the Jewish colonists and the local peasants, but the mutual understanding of the aims of Arabs and Jews will at once clear away the last trace of this former bitterness, which, indeed, had already practically disappeared before the war by the work of the Arab Secret Revolutionary Committee, which in Syria and elsewhere laid the foundation of the Arab military successes of the past two years.”
1933: Construction begins on the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco to Marin County, California. The project is often held up as a shining example of Depression-era federal job creation (re: the President Obama’s 2015 remarks in SF), which it was not. The bridge was the brainchild of Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss, who envisioned a design costing less than a fifth of the initial $100M (in 1916) estimate. The California Legislature authorized a Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District to manage design and financing. They established a bond issue after an approving vote by the affected Bay Area counties. When bond sales proved sluggish in the early years of the Depression, Amadeo Giannini, founder of San Francisco’s Bank of America, agreed in 1932 to have his bank purchase the entire issue as a way of stimulating the local economy. Construction beginning on this date reflected in a very real way the desires and aspirations of the citizens of the San Francisco Bay area. The last of the bonds was paid off in 1971, the original $35M supplemented by $39M of interest, all paid by bridge tolls (a.k.a. “user fees”).
1945: Birth of Belgian race car driver Jackie Ickx (pronounced like yikes– but without the y diphthong). Ickx had 25 podium finishes in his Formula One career, and then went on to win six runnings of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
1962: Pope John XXIII excommunicates Fidel Castro from the Roman Catholic Church.
1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson gives his State of the Union speech, in which he announces a legislative program he dubs “The Great Society.” Johnson insisted this massive expansion of federal social programs could be accomplished simultaneously with massive expansion of U.S. engagement in the Vietnam War, a guns-AND-butter decision that set the country on an unsustainable fiscal course that now appears to be reaching the end of its viability.
1970: At 00:00:00 GMT, time began for the UNIX computer system. “There are 10 kinds of people- those who understand binary, and those who don’t.”
1989: Two F-14 Tomcats flying from the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), intercept and shoot down two Libyan MiG-23 Floggers in international airspace over the Gulf of Sidra.
1992: Death of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, USNR (b.1906), one of the visionary thinkers who ushered the U.S. into the computer age. In the early 1950s, she worked on the design team for the original UINVAC 1 system, which included her particular input, a functional compiler, a capability long considered beyond the reach of computing machines. Ten years later, she spearheaded the design and application of COBOL, the first computer language designed around more natural English as opposed to machine language. She retired in 1986, the oldest commissioned officer in the Navy at 79 years of age. USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named in her honor.
1999: Introduction of the EURO as a continent-wide common currency.