1565: Founding of Rio de Janeiro.
1712: In Stockholm (and elsewhere in the realm), the subjects of the kingdom of Sweden celebrate February 30th, bringing the country’s calendar back in line with the rest of Europe, who were still using the Julian dating system. The Swedish Calendar was planned as a way to slowly- over 40 years- to move international dating over to the better-derived and nominally more accurate Gregorian Calendar. But after 12 years of no one else following their lead, it just got too hard. At this stage, Sweden was a day off from everyone else, and it would only get worse over time. The backwards leap this day brought her back into the mainstream, although when the rest of the world made the sudden 11-day leap in 1753, Sweden waited a year, maybe out of spite. On the other hand, in Russia they waited ‘til they were communist, and the Orthodox Church still hasn’t given it up.
1776: The Continental Navy’s Continental Marines storm ashore in Nassau, Bahamas, under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholas (DLH 11/10). The attack is the Marines’ first amphibious assault. No surprise, they successfully occupied Nassau, spending two weeks loading British guns and powder into the little Navy fleet. For some reason the island’s governor, who so hospitably did not offer significant resistance to the Americans, complained later that the American officers drank their way through the occupation, completely draining his liquor supply
1779: Birth of American polymath Joel Roberts Poinsett (d.1851), a congressman, physician, botanist, statesman, and the first U.S. Minister to Mexico (prior to our sending an ambassador), where he spent a significant amount of time cataloging the varieties of flora in the southern part of the country. He is best known today for bringing to the United States the red-leafed “Christmas-Eve flower” that now bears his name.
1781: The Continental Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but their fundamental weakness lead to our current, magnificent Constitution.
1791: The French Republic, in response to an urgent need to deal with persistent English threats along the coast, builds the first of a tightly interlaced series of semaphore towers, or “optical telegraphs,” to rapidly communicate between the frontiers and the capital in Paris. The towers in France used a series of rotating and articulated arms to create coded characters. Other countries used different types of open and closed panels or different types of arms, but the principle remained the same: the most distant lookout would spot some kind of listed activity offshore and immediately report it to the next tower along the line. Not surprisingly, the towers themselves made excellent targets for military raids.
1810: Birth of Fredrick Chopin (d.1849), in Warsaw. The piano prodigy becomes an international celebrity, whose work includes over 230 extant scores, all written for piano, with only occasional instrumental accompaniment. He died in Paris at age 39 of tuberculosis. At his request, after death his heart was removed and interred at his home church in Warsaw.
1831: Birth of American inventor & businessman, George Pullman (d.1897). The inventor of the pull-down bed for those long-distance train trips. The Pullman Sleeper also created an entirely new class of crew for the trains: the Pullman Porter, who was responsible for making and un-making the beds every day.
1836: The Alamo may have still been under siege, but the Texas Convention of 1836 on this day declared the independence of the Texas Republic from Mexico.
1845: President John Tyler signs a bill authorizing the annexation of the Republic of Texas. This act was not as simple as it sounds. You may also hear from time to time that Texas is the only one of the Several States to have a legitimate secession clause in its annexation. This is also not as simple as it sounds. Texas is, in fact, the only State that was annexed as a formerly sovereign state, not as a federal territory from which a State would be organized. The decade of high political drama that surrounded Texas’s eventual integration into the United States remains a potent force in the identity of Texans nationwide.
1847: Birth of Scottish-American inventor Alexander Graham Bell (d.1922).
1861: Tsar Alexander I abolishes serfdom in Russia.
1872: Yellowstone National Park is established.
1895: Birth of American General Matthew Ridgway (d.1993), best remembered for his command of U.S. 8thArmy in Korea, where he revitalized a demoralized and retreating army and put them on the attack against the communist onslaught from the North. When General MacArthur was relieved of command by President Truman in the Spring of 1951, Ridgway was awarded his fourth star and took over as Supreme Commander of the UN forces engaged in Korea.
1905: In an attempt to build on his assassinated predecessor’s reforms, and to placate nascent agitation by unionists and communists, Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II agrees to create a representative legislature, the Duma.
1918: Only months after completing their overthrow of the Tsar, the new communist government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics sues for peace with the Central Powers and signs the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ending Russian participation in the Great War. Party Leader Vladimir Lenin and his henchmen thence turn their attention to waging war on their own people.
1924: Birth of Deke Slayton (d.1993), one of the original 7 Mercury Astronauts, who had the distinction of being grounded from the flight program for reasons of a suspected heart murmur. He remained in NASA, however, becoming head of the Astronaut Office, which controlled astronaut selection and flight assignments. After completion of the dangerous and dramatic Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, Slayton was finally released for flight as Docking Module Pilot of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, a 1975 earth orbital mission that set the conditions for continued U.S.- Russian cooperation in space.
1924: The city of Fiume, on the Dalmatian coast of the Ottoman Empire. In the early 18th Century scramble to supplant Venice as the principal Adriatic seaport, the Sultan in 1719 granted Fiume status of Free State within the Empire. The city’s status rose and fell periodically during the Ottoman period, the political agitation often aided and abetted by Italy, particularly after the 1870-era unification. At the close of the Great War, the Paris Peace Conference delegates, working under the guidance of President Wilson’s 14 Points, pressed forward with the dismemberment of Ottoman territories in the Balkans based on the concept of national self-determination. Fiume almost immediately became a flashpoint. Since “nationalism” in the Balkan context depended on language, the three spoken languages of Fiume did nothing to solve the issue. Neither did Italian nationalism, Italian Fascism, Croat nationalism, Serb nationalism, “native” Fiume communism and a number of other lesser, but similarly high-strung interests. For five years, the status of Fiume was debated, settled, debated again, and settled again until on this day, Italian Fascists staged a coup d’état that overthrew what passed for a government, and asked for Italian military intervention and annexation by Italy. Press reports and other writing from the period often referred to Fiume in the kind of terms that we recently referred to Beirut, or Baghdad, or Kabul or, more recently, Aleppo: “Oh, yeah- that place (about which everybody knows what is going on)…” In the end, the little city-state was actually annexed by Yugoslavia, and its name changed to its native Croat title, Rijeka.
1932: Charles Augustus Lindbergh III, infant son of Lucky Lindy and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh, is kidnapped from their home in East Amwell, NJ. In mid-May, the boy’s body was discovered not far from the Lindbergh’s home, with death indicated from a massive blow to the head. The crime riveted the national consciousness for over two years, more of which we’ll see when we get to the anniversary of the trial.
1938: After five years of dry holes, Standard Oil of California finally discovers oil near Dahran in Saudi Arabia. The American oil consortium who did the exploration and development of the oil industry there went through several iterations, finally becoming the Arabian-American Oil Company, more commonly known as Aramco.
1949: A USAF B-50 Superfortress, under the command of Captain James Gallagher, arrives at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth after completing a 94 hour, non-stop circumnavigation of the globe. The crew performed four aerial refuelings, meeting Air Force tankers over Lajes airfield in the Azores, Dahran Airfield in Saudi Arabia, Clark AFB in the Philippines, and Hickam AFB in Hawaii. FYI: the B-50 was a modified B-29, using more powerful and reliable Wright Cyclone engines, a taller vertical stabilizer, and other fuselage strengthening improvements that permitted it to carry nuclear bombs (which were huge- like 8-10,000 pounds each- at the time).
1950: Birth of singer-songwriter and drummer Karen Carpenter (d.1983), her golden voice cut short by the ravages of anorexia nervosa.
1953: Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin collapses from a stroke. He dies four days later.
1991: An amateur video, taped by George Holliday, surfaces of a drunken Rodney King “not getting along” with the LAPD. He was, in fact, beaten to a pulp, but the acquittal of the offending officers triggered riots in Los Angeles the following year.
2005: Adventurer and aviation dynamo Steve Fossett (1944-2007) lands at the old Air Force base in Salina, Kansas, to complete the world’s first solo, non-stop, unrefueled powered flight around the world. The plane was a carbon-fiber wonder designed and built by the great Burt Rutan.