On This Day in History

On This Day, July 26, 1945 – Winston Churchill Resigns

In the 11th hour of World War II, Winston Churchill is forced to resign as British prime minister following his party’s electoral defeat by the Labour Party. It was the first general election held in Britain in more than a decade. The same day, Clement Attlee, the Labour leader, was sworn in as the new British leader. Born at Blenheim Palace in 1874, Churchill joined the British Fourth Hussars upon his father’s death in 1895. During the next five years, he enjoyed an illustrious military career, serving in India, the Sudan, and South Africa, and distinguishing himself several times in battle. In 1899, he resigned his commission to concentrate on his literary and political career and in 1900 was elected to Parliament as a Conservative MP from Oldham. In 1904, he joined the Liberals, serving in a number of important posts before being appointed Britain’s First Lord of the...

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On This Day, July 25, 1917 – Mata Hari Sentenced to Die

In Paris, France, on July 25, 1917, the exotic dancer Mata Hari is sentenced to death by a French court for spying on Germany’s behalf during World War I. Since 1903, Margueretha Gertruida Zelle, born in a small town in northern Holland and formerly married to a captain in the Dutch army, had performed in Paris as a dancer. She adopted the stage persona of Mata Hari, claiming she was born in a sacred Indian temple and taught ancient Indian dances by a priestess who gave her the name, which meant “eye of the dawn.” Her exotic dances soon earned her fans all over Europe, where she packed dance halls from Moscow to Berlin to Madrid, largely because of her willingness to dance almost entirely naked in public. Mata Hari also became a celebrated courtesan, and by the outbreak of World War I, her catalog of lovers included high-ranking...

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On This Day, July 24, 1959 – Nixon and Khrushchev Have a “Kitchen Debate”

During the grand opening ceremony of the American National Exhibition in Moscow, Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev engage in a heated debate about capitalism and communism in the middle of a model kitchen set up for the fair. The so-called “kitchen debate” became one of the most famous episodes of the Cold War. In late 1958, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to set up national exhibitions in each other’s nation as part of their new emphasis on cultural exchanges. The Soviet exhibition opened in New York City in June 1959; the U.S. exhibition opened in Sokolniki Park in Moscow in July. On July 24, before the Moscow exhibition was officially opened to the public, Vice President Nixon served as a host for a visit by Soviet leader Khrushchev. As Nixon led Khrushchev through the American exhibition, the Soviet leader’s famous temper began...

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On This Day, July 23, 1976 – Legionnaires Gather in Philly

On this day in 1976, members of the American Legion arrive in Philadelphia to celebrate the bicentennial of U.S. independence. Soon after, many began suffering from a mysterious form of pneumonia. Their ailment would come to be known as Legionnaires’ disease. About 4,000 delegates from the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Legion met at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia for a four-day gathering. While at the hotel, built in 1900, the Legionnaires did not notice anything unusual. However, several days after the event ended, many attendees became sick. By August 2, 22 people were dead and hundreds connected to the gathering were experiencing pneumonia-like symptoms. The Center for Disease Control immediately launched an investigation, but it took four months to identify the culprit. Joseph McDade, a CDC research microbiologist, finally isolated the bacteria that caused the disease: an aquatic microorganism, found in watery places like pipes and air conditioning...

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On This Day, July 22, 1942 – Deportations from Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka Begin

On this day in 1942, the systematic deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto begins, as thousands are rounded up daily and transported to a newly constructed concentration/extermination camp at Treblinka, in Poland. On July 17, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS, arrived at Auschwitz, the concentration camp in eastern Poland, in time to watch the arrival of more than 2,000 Dutch Jews and the gassing of almost 500 of them, mostly the elderly, sick and very young. The next day, Himmler promoted the camp commandant, Rudolph Hoess, to SS major and ordered that the Warsaw ghetto (the Jewish quarter constructed by the Nazis upon the occupation of Poland, enclosed first by barbed wire and then by brick walls), be depopulated–a “total cleansing,” as he described it–and the inhabitants transported to what was to become a second extermination camp constructed at the railway village of Treblinka, 62 miles...

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On This Day, July 21, 2011 – NASA’s Final Space Shuttle Mission Comes to an End

On this day in 2011, NASA’s space shuttle program completes its final, and 135th, mission, when the shuttle Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the program’s 30-year history, its five orbiters—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour—carried more than 350 people into space and flew more than 500 million miles, and shuttle crews conducted important research, serviced the Hubble Space Telescope and helped in the construction of the International Space Station, among other activities. NASA retired the shuttles to focus on a deep-space exploration program that could one day send astronauts to asteroids and Mars. In January 1972, two-and-a-half years after America put the first man on the moon in July 1969, President Richard Nixon publicly announced that NASA would develop a space transportation system featuring a space vehicle capable of shuttling “repeatedly from Earth to orbit and back.” Nine years later, on April 12, 1981, at...

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On This Day, July 20, 1881 – Sitting Bull Surrenders

Five years after General George A. Custer’s infamous defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, Hunkpapa Teton Sioux leader Sitting Bull surrenders to the U.S. Army, which promises amnesty for him and his followers. Sitting Bull had been a major leader in the 1876 Sioux uprising that resulted in the death of Custer and 264 of his men at Little Bighorn. Pursued by the U.S. Army after the Indian victory, he escaped to Canada with his followers. Born in the Grand River Valley in what is now South Dakota, Sitting Bull gained early recognition in his Sioux tribe as a capable warrior and a man of vision. In 1864, he fought against the U.S. Army under General Alfred Sully at Killdeer Mountain and thereafter dedicated himself to leading Sioux resistance against white encroachment. He soon gained a following in not only his own tribe but in the Cheyenne and...

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On This Day, July 19, 1799 – French Soldier Discovers the Rosetta Stone

1799 – During Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign, a French soldier discovers a black basalt slab inscribed with ancient writing near the town of Rosetta, about 35 miles north of Alexandria. The irregularly shaped stone contained fragments of passages written in three different scripts: Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics and Egyptian demotic. The ancient Greek on the Rosetta Stone told archaeologists that it was inscribed by priests honoring the king of Egypt, Ptolemy V, in the second century B.C. More startlingly, the Greek passage announced that the three scripts were all of identical meaning. The artifact thus held the key to solving the riddle of hieroglyphics, a written language that had been “dead” for nearly 2,000 years. When Napoleon, an emperor known for his enlightened view of education, art and culture, invaded Egypt in 1798, he took along a group of scholars and told them to seize all important cultural artifacts for...

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On This Day, July 18, 1940 – Franklin Roosevelt Nominated for Third Term

1940 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who first took office in 1933 as America’s 32nd president, is nominated for an unprecedented third term. Roosevelt, a Democrat, would eventually be elected to a record four terms in office, the only U.S. president to serve more than two terms. Roosevelt was born January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York, and went on to serve as a New York state senator from 1911 to 1913, assistant secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920 and governor of New York from 1929 to 1932. In 1932, he defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover to be elected president for the first time. During his first term, Roosevelt enacted his New Deal social programs, which were aimed at lifting America out of the Great Depression. In 1936, he won his second term in office by defeating Kansas governor Alf Landon in a landslide. On July 18, 1940, Roosevelt...

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On This Day, July 17, 1985 – Oliver North Testifies on Iran-Contra

1987 – Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and rear Admiral John Poindexter begin testifying to Congress at the “Iran-Contra” hearings. In 1985, while Iran and Iraq were at war, Iran made a secret request to buy weapons from the United States. Ronald Reagan had become frustrated at his inability to secure the release of the seven American hostages being held by Iranian terrorists in Lebanon. As president, Reagan felt that “he had the duty to bring those Americans home,” and he convinced himself that he was not negotiating with terrorists. While shipping arms to Iran violated the embargo, dealing with terrorists violated Reagan’s campaign promise never to do so. While probing the question of the arms-for-hostages deal, Attorney General Edwin Meese discovered that only $12 million of the $30 million the Iranians reportedly paid had reached government coffers. Then-unknown Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council explained the...

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On This Day, July 16, 1945 – US Explodes World’s First Atomic Bomb

1945 – At 5:29:45 a.m., the Manhattan Project comes to an explosive end as the first atom bomb is successfully tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Plans for the creation of a uranium bomb by the Allies were established as early as 1939, when Italian emigre physicist Enrico Fermi met with U.S. Navy Department officials at Columbia University to discuss the use of fissionable materials for military purposes. That same year, Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt supporting the theory that an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction had great potential as a basis for a weapon of mass destruction. In February 1940, the federal government granted a total of $6,000 for research. But in early 1942, with the United States now at war with the Axis powers, and fear mounting that Germany was working on its own uranium bomb, the War Department took a more active interest, and limits on...

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On This Day, July 15, 1942 – WW II Pilots Start Flying ‘the Hump’

1942 – The first supply flight from India to China over “the Hump” was carried to help China’s war effort. Heavily loaded transports began their runs to China after lifting off from hot, muggy airfields in India’s eastern jungles, then struggled upward for altitude to clear the towering Himalayas. A direct route to Kunming, China, took four hours, at an average altitude of about sixteen thousand feet, and placed aircraft over areas within range of Japanese fighters. The crews characteristically flew a dogleg to the north to escape enemy airplanes, even though the path stretched fuel reserves to the limit and required an operational altitude of twenty thousand feet to clear most of the Himalayan peaks. In addition to the changeable weather high over the Himalayas, pilots flew across virtually impenetrable jungles on both sides of the menacing mountain ranges.  Over the Indian jungles, in particular, fliers had to...

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On This Day, July 14, 1789 – Les Révolutionnaires Français Tempête la Bastille

1789 – Parisian revolutionaries and mutinous troops storm and dismantle the Bastille, a royal fortress that had come to symbolize the tyranny of the Bourbon monarchs. This dramatic action signaled the beginning of the French Revolution, a decade of political turmoil and terror in which King Louis XVI was overthrown and tens of thousands of people, including the king and his wife Marie Antoinette, were executed. The Bastille was originally constructed in 1370 as a bastide, or “fortification,” to protect the walled city of Paris from English attack. It was later made into an independent stronghold, and its name – bastide – was corrupted to Bastille. The Bastille was first used as a state prison in the 17th century, and its cells were reserved for upper-class felons, political troublemakers, and spies. Most prisoners there were imprisoned without a trial under direct orders of the king. Standing 100 feet tall and surrounded...

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On This Day, July 13, 1985 – Live Aid Concert

On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially open Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans. Continued at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and at other arenas around the world, the 16-hour “superconcert” was globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations. In a triumph of technology and good will, the event raised more than $125 million in famine relief for Africa. Live Aid was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, the singer of an Irish rock group called the Boomtown Rats. In 1984, Geldof traveled to Ethiopia after hearing news reports of a horrific famine that had killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians and threatened to kill millions more. After returning to London, he called Britain’s and Ireland’s top pop artists together to record a single to benefit Ethiopian...

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On This Day, July 12, 1943 – Soviets Stop Nazi Advance at Kursk

1943 – One of the greatest clashes of armor in military history takes place as the German offensive against the Russian fortification at Kursk, a Russian railway and industrial center, is stopped in a devastating battle, marking the turning point in the Eastern front in the Russians’ favor. The Germans had been driven from Kursk, a key communications center between north and south, back in February. By March, the Russians had created a salient, a defensive fortification, just west of Kursk in order to prevent another attempt by the Germans to advance farther south in Russia. In June, the German invaders launched an air attack against Kursk; on the ground, Operation Cottbus was launched, ostensibly dedicated to destroying Russian partisan activity, but in reality resulting in the wholesale slaughter of Russian civilians, among whom Soviet partisan fighters had been hiding. The Russians responded with air raids against German troop...

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On This Day, July 11, 1804 – Burr Slays Hamilton in Duel

In a duel held in Weehawken, New Jersey, Vice President Aaron Burr fatally shoots his long-time political antagonist Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, a leading Federalist and the chief architect of America’s political economy, died the following day. Alexander Hamilton, born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, came to the American colonies in 1773 as a poor immigrant. (There is some controversy as to the year of his birth, but it was either 1755 or 1757.) In 1776, he joined the Continental Army in the American Revolution, and his relentless energy and remarkable intelligence brought him to the attention of General George Washington, who took him on as an aide. Ten years later, Hamilton served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and he led the fight to win ratification of the final document, which created the kind of strong, centralized government that he favored. In 1789, he was appointed the...

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On This Day, July 10, 1925 – Monkey Trial Begins

In Dayton, Tennessee, the so-called “Monkey Trial” begins with John Thomas Scopes, a young high school science teacher, accused of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law. The law, which had been passed in March, made it a misdemeanor punishable by fine to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” With local businessman George Rappalyea, Scopes had conspired to get charged with this violation, and after his arrest the pair enlisted the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to organize a defense. Hearing of this coordinated attack on Christian fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate and a fundamentalist hero, volunteered to assist the prosecution. Soon after, the great attorney Clarence Darrow agreed to join the ACLU in...

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On This Day, July 9,1850 – President Zachary Taylor Dies Unexpectedly

On this day in 1850, after only 16 months in office, President Zachary Taylor dies after a brief illness. The exact cause of his death is still disputed by some historians. On a scorching Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., Taylor attended festivities at the newly dedicated grounds upon which the Washington Monument would be erected. According to several sources, Taylor gulped down a large quantity of cherries and iced milk and then returned to the White House, where he quenched his thirst with several glasses of water. Outbreaks of cholera, a deadly disease caused by bacteria, occurred frequently during the summer months in hot, humid Washington during the 1800s, when sewage systems were primitive at best. The bacteria were mostly likely present in the water or iced milk Taylor drank, though other sources have claimed that Taylor died of gastroenteritis caused by the highly acidic cherries combined with...

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On This Day, July 8, 1776 – The Liberty Bell Rings Out for Freedom

1776 – A 2,000-pound copper-and-tin bell now known as the “Liberty Bell” rings out from the tower of the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, summoning citizens to the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Four days earlier, the historic document had been adopted by delegates to the Continental Congress, but the bell did not ring to announce the issuing of the document until the Declaration of Independence returned from the printer on July 8. In 1751, to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Pennsylvania’s original constitution, the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly ordered the bell to be constructed. After being cracked during a test, and then recast twice, the bell was hung from the State House steeple in June 1753. Rung to call the Pennsylvania Assembly together and to summon people for special announcements and events, it was also rung on important occasions, such as King George...

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On This Day, July 7, 2005 – Terrorists Attack London Transit System at Rush Hour

On the morning of July 7, 2005, bombs are detonated in three crowded London subways and one bus during the peak of the city’s rush hour. The synchronized suicide bombings, which were thought to be the work of al-Qaida, killed 56 people including the bombers and injured another 700. It was the largest attack on Great Britain since World War II. No warning was given. The train bombings targeted the London Underground, the city’s subway system. Nearly simultaneous explosions, at about 8:50 a.m., occurred on trains in three locations: between the Aldgate and Liverpool Street stations on the Circle Line; between the Russell Square and King’s Cross stations on the Piccadilly Line; and at the Edgware Road station, also on the Circle Line. Almost an hour later, a double-decker bus on Upper Woburn Place near Tavistock Square was also hit; the bus’s roof was ripped off by the blast....

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