1394: Birth in Lisbon of a boy who grew to become Prince Henry the Navigator (d.1460). After a career of guiding Portuguese seamen around the coast of Africa, he died 32 years before the greatest seaborne discovery of them all.
1493: Christopher Columbus arrives in Lisbon aboard his carrack Nina, thus completing his first of three voyages of discovery to the New World.
1496: With news of Christopher Columbus’ recent discoveries spreading throughout Europe, English King Henry VII issues a letter of patent to Venetian sea captain Giovanni Caboto, anglicized to John Cabot, authorizing him to explore unknown lands in the name of the Crown. Making three voyages westward from the northern latitudes of England, he is acknowledged as the first European to set foot on the North American continent since the Viking Lief Ericson nearly five hundred years earlier.
1504: Spanish navigator and Admiral of the Ocean Seas Christopher Columbus, having been stranded on the island of Jamaica since June the year prior, and facing a native population who were fed up and done provisioning him and his crew while they awaited rescue, overawes the locals with a demonstration of his superior powers by predicting a lunar eclipse, which occurs on schedule this night. The fact that Columbus drew on this knowledge from the perpetual Almanac of Abraham Zacuto was conveniently not a part of the conversation.
1512: Birth of Gerardus Mercator (d.1594), the Flemish cartographer best known for his development of a projection of the earth’s surface that allows for straight-line plotting of a rhumb line course across the oceans. It’s a real problem to try to accurately present a spherical surface on a flat sheet of paper, and the Mercator projection provided an effective solution that is still in use today.
1519: Hernando Cortez lands in Mexico, looking for Aztec gold.
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 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.
1770: In Boston, British troops fire on a group of protesters, killing five of them, including a young boy and a black freeman named Crispus Attackus. Of note during the subsequent trial was their defense lawyer, noted Bostonian John Adams, cousin of the rabble-rouser revolutionary instigator Samuel Adams and one of the leading lights of the soon-to-be widespread revolution against British rule in the American colonies. It didn’t take long for the event to be memorialized as the Boston Massacre, in the process becoming a cultural touch point for the larger revolutionary movement.
1776: Fortified by the dramatic and unexpected arrival of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga, General George Washington captures Dorchester Heights, thus dominating the British occupied port of Boston. Realizing the weakness of their now-untenable position, the British return control of the city to its citizens and begin a strategic withdrawal to New York.
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.
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.
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.
1890: The longest bridge in Great Britain (at 1710 feet), the Forth Railway Bridge in Scotland, is opened by the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.
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.
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.
1953: Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin collapses from a stroke. He dies four days later.
1644: Dutch navigator and explorer Abel Tasman sets sail for his second Pacific voyage of discovery on behalf of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). You’ll recall that the Dutch were making money hand over fist from their commercial-colonial foothold in Batavia (now Jakarta) Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Tasman’s first lap in 1642 around the East Indes and Australia started to dissolve the long-running belief of a Terra Australis covered in gold somewhere in the southern reaches of the globe, but they sent him out again with the specific task to find and claim the long-sought land. Instead, he made a thorough survey of the Indonesian archipelago, New Guinea, and the northern coast of Australia, the mapping of which filled in the reality of the geography in this hitherto unknown part of the world. Although the VOC was openly disappointed that he failed to discover the imagined gold fields, his discoveries and mapping of this complex geography created the standard for follow on voyages of exploration. Compare the detail of Tasman’s map of the coastlines he mapped compared to a view of his tracks on a current maps. Wooden ships. No accurate measurement of longitude. No idea of water depths or the actual contours of the coastlines… this is extraordinary work.
1704: French troops, augmented by Indian warriors conduct a raid in Deerfield, Massachusetts Bay Colony, killing 46settlers and taking 112 captives on a 300 mile winter march to Montreal. The raid assumed legendary status by the late 18th and early 19th centuries as a tale of the bravery of frontier settlers against the dangers of native warriors and the treacherous French. It remains a singular cultural touchpoint in the story of the American founding.
1776: The Continental Navy’s Continental Marines storm ashore in Nassau, Bahamas, under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholas. 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 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.
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.
1831: Birth of American inventor & businessman, George Pullman (d.1897). The Pullman Sleeper 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.
1847: Birth of Scottish-American inventor Alexander Graham Bell.
1861: Tsar Alexander I abolishes serfdom in Russia.
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.
1916: South Carolina raises the minimum age for child labor in factories, mills, and mines from twelve to fourteen.
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 Russia itself.
1924: The city of Fiume, on the Dalmatian coast of the Ottoman Empire. In the early 18th Century it scrambled 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 the last 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. In the end, the little city-state was actually annexed by Yugoslavia, and its name changed to its native Croat title, Rijeka.
1936: Birth of Jack Lousma, USMC aviator, Skylab and Shuttle astronaut pilot .
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 (8-10,000 pounds each- at the time).
1950: Birth of singer-songwriter and drummer Karen Carpenter.
1972: As part of the United States’ efforts towards “Vietnamization” of the War in Vietnam, South Korea withdraws 11,000 of its 48,000 deployed troops from South Vietnam. It wasn’t just the United States forces fighting the communists in that country.
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 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 craft designed and built by Burt Rutan.