National day of Switzerland.

10 BC: Birth of Claudius I (Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus), in Lugdunum (now Lyons). He became Roman emperor, and invaded Britain in 43 to make it a province.

1714: George Louis, Elector of Hanover, was proclaimed King George I of Great Britain on the death of Queen Anne.

1716: The first rowing competition, the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race, took place on the Thames.

1740: ‘Rule Britannia’ was sung for the first time, as part of the masque Alfred by Thomas Arne.

1774: Sir Joseph Priestley discovered ‘a new species of air’, otherwise known as oxygen. (Although it seems likely that Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a Swedish chemist, had made the same discovery the year before.)

1778: The world’s first savings bank opened in Hamburg.

1798: Nelson destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile, cutting off Napoleon’s supply route to his army in Egypt.

1831: Opening of New London Bridge by King William IV and Queen Adelaide. Old London Bridge was built in 1209.

1859: Publication of ‘Ave Maria’ by Gounod.

1873: San Francisco’s cable car system, the Clay Street Hill Railroad, began running.

1876: Colorado was the 38th state to join the Union.

1932: The first Mars Bar, made in Slough, Berkshire, went on sale.

1936: The Olympic Games opened in Nazi Germany, the last for 12 years.

1939: Glenn Miller and his band recorded ‘In The Mood’. This piece was to become his theme tune.

1960: In Berlin, ASK Vorwaerts and Red Star Brno played football’s first European Cup-winners’ Cup match.

1969: The first pictures of Mars reached earth from the unmanned US spacecraft Mariner 6.

1975: The Western powers and the USSR signed the Helsinki Agreement to respect human rights.


1865: Publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This first edition was soon withdrawn because of bad printing, and it is now one of the 19th century’s rarest books, with only 21 copies remaining.

1875: Britain’s first roller rink, the Belgravia Roller Skating Rink, opened in London.

1894: Death duties were introduced into Britain.

1973: 20 adults and 10 children died, and 80 people were injured, when fire broke out at Summerland, ‘the family fun centre’ on the Isle of Man. The perspex-type roof (forbidden on the mainland) created an inferno, and many people were either suffocated or trampled.

1980: 84 people died when right-wing terrorists exploded a bomb in the crowded Bologna Railway Station in Italy.

1987: Luis Reina was the first matador ever to enter the bullring with advertising displayed on his suit. The advertisement was for the Japanese electronics firm, Akai.

1990: An international crisis resulted when Iraq invaded Kuwait this day.


216: Hannibal won the Battle of Cannae despite being outnumbered by the Roman infantry, and then seized the large Roman army supply depot.

1492: Columbus set sail in the Santa María from Palos de la Frontera in Andalucía, Spain. The Pinta and the Niña accompanied him on his first voyage of discovery.

1778: Opening of La Scala Opera House in Milan.

1867: Birth of Stanley Baldwin, English Prime Minister from 1923-29. This term of office saw the General Strike of 1926, and during his third term, in 1935-7, Edward VIII abdicated.

1872: Birth of King Haakon VII, king of Norway from 1905. When the Germans invaded in 1940, he refused to surrender.

1811: Birth of Elisha Graves Otis, American inventor of the safety elevator.

1914: The first ships travelled through the Panama Canal.

1926: Britain’s first traffic lights were installed at Piccadilly Circus.

1936: Jesse Owens, the great black US athlete, began his series of victories at the Berlin Olympics, lasting from this day until August 5. In that time he won gold medals in the long jump, the 100 metres, and the 200 metres. This conspicuously disproved Hitler’s ideas of Aryan superiority.

1955: Premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the Arts Theatre, London. Half the audience walked out during the performance, but time has proved the play to be a classic.

1957: John Charles was transferred from Leeds to Juventus for a £65,000 fee. He was the first British footballer to be transferred to a foreign club.

1963: The Beatles played The Cavern in Liverpool for the last time. ‘Please, Please Me’ had just been released.


1870: The Red Cross Society was founded in Britain.

1900: Birth of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon).

1914: Britain declared war on Germany, starting the First World War.

1942: Birth of David Russell Lange, who became leader of New Zealand’s Labour Party and a year later, in 1984, became that country’s Prime Minister. He introduced a non-nuclear defence policy.

1954: Britain’s first supersonic fighter, the P-1 English Electric Lightning, took off for the first time from Boscombe Down.

1966: John Lennon claimed on a local US radio station that the Beatles were probably more popular than Jesus Christ. As a result, many US states, and South Africa, banned the Beatles’ records.

1984: During the 3000 metres in the Los Angeles Olympics, Zola Budd accidentally tripped the US champion Mary Decker. The incident created one of the most dramatic upsets in the history of the Games.


1815: Birth of Edward John Eyre, English administrator in Jamaica, and explorer in Australia. While in Jamaica he brutally suppressed an uprising, but despite this incident, he became a magistrate and protector of Australia’s Aborigines, learning their language and culture and earning their respect. Lake Eyre and the Eyre Peninsula are named after him.

1858: Cyrus Field finished laying the first transatlantic cable, which was opened in Britain by Queen Victoria. The Queen exchanged greetings with President Buchanan on the US side.

1908: Birth of Harold (Edward) Holt, Australian Prime Minister from 1966-7 following Menzies. He sent Australian troops to Vietnam to support US intervention.

1914: The world’s first electric traffic lights were installed in Cleveland, Ohio.

1950: Florence Chadwick, the US swimmer, broke the record by over an hour for swimming the English Channel. She made the crossing in 13 hours 23 minutes.

1930: Birth of Professor Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon. In 1955 he became a civilian research pilot for NASA.

1962: Nelson Mandela, the African Nationalist leader, was sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting to overthrow the South African government.

1970: Hull City and Manchester United were tied 1-1 after extra time, and for the first time in an English first-class football match penalty kicks were used to break the tie. United won 4-3 on penalties.


National day of Bolivia, marking the occasion in 1825 when the country freed itself from 300 years of Spanish rule.

1504: Birth of Matthew Parker, the second Protestant to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

1775: Birth of ‘the Liberator’, Irish leader Daniel O’Connell. He forced the government to grant emancipation to the Catholic population.

1859: The first known advertising slogan appeared on Beechams Powders’ packets and in separate advertisements. It read ‘Worth a guinea a box’.

1889: Opening day of the Savoy Hotel in London.

1890: Execution of murderer William Kemmler in Auburn Prison, New York, the first condemned prisoner to die in the electric chair. The chair’s inventor, Harold P Brown, had electrocuted a large number of animals in order to test his murderous invention. It seems that Kemmler took eight minutes to die.

1916: Birth of Dominic Mintoff. During his term as Prime Minister of Malta from 1971-9, Mintoff was successful in negotiating the removal of British and other foreign bases from the island.

1926: Gertrude Ederle of the US swam the English Channel, the first woman ever to do so. She took 14 hours and 34 minutes.

1945: The Japanese city of Hiroshima was devastated within seconds when the first atomic bomb was dropped by the US Boeing B-29 bomber Enola Gay.

1988: Ballerina Natalia Makarova danced with the Kirov Ballet in London for the first time since she defected to the West eighteen years before. She danced the role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, and earned a 35-minute standing ovation.


1556: A contemporary illustration on a woodcut depicts a UFO or flying saucer, which appeared over the city of Basle in Switzerland.

1711: Queen Anne attended the horse races at Ascot, giving them their ‘Royal’ status.

1840: The British parliament passed an act prohibiting the employment of climbing boys as chimney sweeps.

1876: Birth of Mata Hari (Margaretha Geertruida Zelle), in Holland. She began to dance professionally in Paris, after separating from her husband in 1905. She spied for the Germans during the First World War, and was arrested by the French in 1917. She was executed by a firing squad on 15 October of that year.

1903: Birth of Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey, British archaeologist. In Kenya, where he was born, he and his wife Mary discovered huge animal fossils, and some ancient human remains dating back to about 20 million years ago.

1904: Birth of Ralph Johnson Bunche, a grandson of a slave. He went on to become a diplomat for the US, and was under-secretary of the United Nations from 1954 to 1967. He won the Nobel prize in 1950 for his efforts to bring peace to Palestine.

1913: Death of Samuel Cody, US aviator, in Britain’s first air tragedy, when his aircraft crashed at Farnborough.

1926: The first British Grand Prix took place at Brooklands, won by a Delage car which averaged 71.61 mph.

1990: Consider this - at twelve-thirty-four and fifty-six seconds, the time and date could be expressed in this way: 12:34:56, 7/8/90. The sequence of numbers runs from 1 to 0 only once a century.


117: Hadrian became Roman emperor on the death of Trajan, his father.

1576: The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe began work in his observatory at Uraniborg, the first purpose-built observatory ever constructed.

1588: In a nine-hour battle off Gravelines, Medina Sidonia’s ships engaged the British in their last naval confrontation with the Spanish Armada. One Spanish ship sunk and two were disabled, but by then the British were out of ammunition. At the same time, the wind was forcing the Armada away from Flanders and out into the North Sea.

1786: Dr Michael Gabriel Piccard and his porter Jacques Balmat won a prize for the first person to climb Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. The prize was offered by Swiss scientist Horace Benedict Saussure, who created the sport of mountain climbing.

1834: The Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in Britain. The Act dropped the system of outdoor relief whereby parishes cared for their poor by a rate of poor relief. They replaced that system with the workhouse.

1900: The first Davis Cup began at Brookline, Massachusetts. The tennis championship was presented by Dwight Filey Davis, and its first winners were the US team.

1944: A field-marshal and four generals were subjected to a slow and agonizing death when they were hanged by piano wires after a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. The execution was photographed for Hitler, and he is said to have gloated over the pictures.

1963: In the Kremlin, the Test Ban Treaty was signed by the US, Britain and the USSR.

1963: A gang of 15, including Ronnie Biggs and Buster Edwards, changed the signals to stop a Royal Mail train on a quiet stretch of track at Cheddington, Buckinghamshire. Then the gang stole over £2.6 million in what became known as the Great Train Robbery.

1974: Richard Nixon was the first US President to resign. Because of his participation in the Watergate affair, he was in danger of being impeached.

1988: The Chinese regard this as the luckiest day of the century, because the date is a palindrome: 8/8/88.

1988: Six thousand visitors descended upon the town of Eighty-Eight, Kentucky (population 300). The tourists wanted to buy postcards to be franked at 8.08 am with an 88 postmark. One couple drove there to be married at 8.08 on the church’s eighth step. The town got its name when one of the founders checked in his pocket and found he had only 88 cents.

1988: Birth of Beatrice, first child of Prince Andrew and the Duchess of York.


1757: Birth of Thomas Telford, Scottish civil engineer. In 1825 Telford built one of the first suspension bridges in Britain, the 177-metre Menai suspension bridge in Wales.

1867: Arrest of John Harrison Surratt, on charges of conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln. When the case came to trial, he presented an alibi which split the jury to eight not guilty, four guilty.

1902: Coronation of Edward VII, aged 64, at Westminster Abbey. The coronation was delayed for six weeks while Edward recovered from an appendectomy.

1905: Birth of Dame Elizabeth Lane, English High Court Judge, first woman barrister to appear in the House of Lords on a murder case, and the first judge to work part-time.

1945: Nagasaki was devastated by the second atomic bomb, forcing the Japanese Emperor to surrender to the Allies.

1963: ITV transmitted its first Ready Steady Go with Cathy McGowan, who earned the nickname ‘Queen of the Mods’. The show was intended as a rival to the BBC’s Top of the Pops.

1974: Gerald Ford became the 38th US President as a result of Nixon’s resignation the day before. Ford was the first US President not to be elected. His vice-president was Nelson Rockefeller. John Dean and John Erlichman respectively received four- and five-year jail sentences for participating in the Watergate affair.


1675: King Charles II laid the foundation stone of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

1787: Mozart completed Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

1810: Birth of Count (Camillo Benso) Cavour, the first Italian Prime Minister in the new unified kingdom, having played the central role in its creation.

1821: Missouri was the 24th state to join the Union.

1846: The Smithsonian Institution was established at Washington. The English scientist, James Smithson, had bequeathed money to fund scientific research, and the Smithsonian was a result.

1874: Birth of Herbert (Clark) Hoover, 31st US President, who held office during the Depression, without doing much to improve the desperate state of the economy.

1889: Dan Rylands, of Hope Glass Works, Barnsley, Yorkshire, patented the screw-top bottle.

1893: Dr Rudolf Diesel’s prototype engine underwent testing at Krupps. It was produced commercially four years later.

1895: At the Queen’s Hall, London, Sir Henry Wood’s first Promenade Concert took place.

1897: The Automobile Club of Great Britain was formed, later to become the Royal Automobile Club (RAC).

1954: The champion English jockey Sir Gordon Richards retired after 4,870 victories.

1966: Launch of Orbiter I, the US’s first moon satellite.


1673: Birth of Richard Meade, English doctor. Meade did much to further preventative medicine, and produced papers on the treatment of smallpox, measles, the plague, and scurvy. He counted two British kings, a queen, and the prime minister among his patients.

1942: First performance of the Leningrad Symphony, Shostakovich’s Seventh, in its eponymous town. Many members of the orchestra were half-starving; some were on leave from the Front; some performed in their military uniforms.

1952: Crown Prince Hussein of Jordan, then in school at Harrow, was named to succeed his father, King Talal, who was suffering from schizophrenia.

1960: Chad gained its independence from France.


The Glorious Twelfth, official opening of the grouse season in Britain.

1762: Birth of George IV, King of England, eldest son of the insane George III. He was a dissolute man, ‘too fond of women and wine’. His first marriage, to the Roman Catholic Maria Fitzherbert in 1785, was performed in secret but proved to be invalid. Ten years later, mired in financial trouble, he was forced to make a loveless marriage with his cousin Caroline to persuade Parliament to pay his debts.

1851: The Royal Yacht Squadron of Great Britain offered the first Hundred Guinea Cup, later known as the America’s Cup. The 100ft US yacht America won the race around the Isle of Wight against the British Aurora.

1883: The world’s last quagga died in Amsterdam Zoo.

1887: Thomas Alva Edison recited ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’, recording it onto a foil-wrapped cylinder on the Edisonphone. It was the first sound recording.

1908: The first ‘Tin Lizzie’, or Ford Model T, was made, replacing the Model A.

1924: Birth of Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. As Chief of Army Staff in Pakistan, he led the coup against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in July 1977, whom he later had tried and executed. He took over as President of Pakistan in 1978, holding office until his death ten years later.

1944: PLUTO (Pipe Line Under the Ocean), which ran under the Channel, began supplying petrol from the Isle of Wight to the Allied forces in France.

1960: Launch of Echo I, the US’ first communications satellite.

1965: Judge Elizabeth Lane was appointed to the High Court, the first woman to do so. She was still addressed as ‘Your Lordship’.

1980: In a Mexico zoo, the first giant panda born in captivity was delivered naturally.


1704: Marlborough and Prince Eugène led the Anglo-Austrian army to victory against the French at Blenheim.

1814: The Dutch ceded the Cape of Good Hope, making it a British colony.

1860: Birth of Annie Oakley (Phoebe Anne Oakley Moses/Mozee), American sharpshooter. She beat Frank E. Butler, a champion crackshot, and later married him. She became a star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and was nicknamed ‘Little Sure Shot’. It is said that she could hit the edge of a playing card at 30 paces, a nickel tossed into the air, and the end of a cigarette in Butler’s mouth. She was the subject of a biographical musical, Annie Get Your Gun.

1876: First performance, at Bayreuth, of Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen).

1913: Birth in Cyprus of Archbishop Makarios III (Michael Christodolou Mouskos). He became a priest, and worked to further enosis (union) with Greece despite opposition from the Turkish Cypriots. He was exiled to the Seychelles in 1956 when the British arrested him on sedition charges. He was allowed to return when he abandoned enosis, and became President in 1959.

1915: Execution of George Joseph Smith, on this Friday 13th. Smith became known as the ‘Brides in the Bath’ murderer because he manipulated his brides’ finances in his own favour, then drowned the women in a zinc bath.

1927: Birth of Fidel (Ruz) Castro. In the early 1950s, Castro led a guerrilla campaign to overthrow the Batista regime in Cuba. Helped by Che Guevara and other supporters, he gained power in 1959 and brought about reforms.

1952: Big Mama Thornton made the first recording of Lieber and Stoller’s ‘Hound Dog’.

1961: The Berlin Wall of barbed wire went up between West and East Berlin. Within a few days a five-foot high wall was being built where the barbed wire had been. Exactly one year later, Peter Fechter, who was trying to escape to the West, became a martyr. He was shot, and was trapped bleeding at the wall. West German police threw him bandages, but he bled to death, and protests ensued.

1964: The last executions took place in Britain when Peter Allen at Walton Prison, Liverpool and John Walby at Manchester’s Strangeways, were hanged.

1989: 13 people died in the worst-ever hot-air balloon disaster near Alice Springs, central Australia. Two balloons collided at 600 feet, and one fell to the ground, killing the pilot and 12 passengers.


1893: The world’s first car registration plates, driving licences and parking restrictions were introduced in France. The licences were issued when the driver passed the test carried out by the Chief Engineer of Mines.

1908: The first International Beauty Contest took place at the Pier Hippodrome, Folkestone, Kent.

1928: The first scheduled television programmes were broadcast from WRNY in New York.

1945: The Second World War ended when Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. V-J (Victory over Japan) Day was celebrated on the 15th.

1948: Don Bradman, whom some say was the greatest batsman who ever lived, played his last innings at the Oval. The spectators, and the England fielding side, gave him a standing ovation as he went out onto the pitch. He took guard, and was bowled for a duck, supposedly because he was blinded by tears.

1949: Konrad Adenauer became Chancellor of West Germany.

1955: The Royal Academy Summer Show featured Pietro Annigoni’s portrait of the Queen, and it was seen by over a quarter of a million visitors.

1969: The first British troops were deployed in Northern Ireland.

1986: Benazir Bhutto was arrested by President Zia of Pakistan. She remained in prison for 30 days under a public order law.


1769: Birth in Corsica of Napoleon I (Bonaparte). He waged brilliant military campaigns and expanded the French empire, becoming Emperor himself. Eventually, a coalition of allies successfully resisted him and he was exiled to the island of Elba. He resumed his campaign at Waterloo, but was defeated and again exiled to St Helena in the South Atlantic.

1842: The first regular British detective force was formed as a division of the Metropolitan Police. In 1878 it became known as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

1843: Opening day of the Tivoli Pleasure Gardens in Copenhagen.

1856: Birth of James Keir Hardie, Scottish politician. He founded the British Labour Party and was its leader from 1906.

1888: Birth in Wales of Thomas Edward Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’). His adventures as a soldier in the Middle East during the First World War became legendary. His book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom tells the story of how he led an Arab revolt against Turkey, an ally of Germany.

1903: Birth of (Thomas Joseph) Tom Mboya, a leader of Kenya’s independence movement. In 1960 he was one of the founders of the African National Union. He was a minister in Kenyatta’s government.

1914: The SS Ancon was the first ship to pass through the newly-opened Panama Canal.

1938: The Queen Mary beat its own record for crossing the Atlantic, returning eastwards in three days, 23 hours and 58 minutes. It had broken previous records on the westward crossing.

1947: India gained independence from Britain, and the Union Jack was run down in New Delhi for the last time. Nehru became India’s first Prime Minister.

1950: Birth of Princess Anne, the Princess Royal.

1965: 28 people, some of them children, died in race riots in Watts, Los Angeles. 20,000 National Guardsmen struggled to control the situation, and 676 people were injured.

1967: The Marine Broadcasting Act came into force, making it illegal for pirate radio stations to broadcast within British territorial waters.

1969: The legendary Woodstock Music and Arts Fair opened on a dairy farm in upstate New York. Performers included Janis Joplin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez and Jefferson Airplane, playing to 400,000 people over three days. In that time, two babies were born and three people died.

1971: After winning the British Showjumping Derby, Harvey Smith, the English champion, was disqualified for making a V-sign to his detractors. He was reinstated two days later.

1979: Sebastian Coe broke his third world record in three weeks at the 1500 metres in Zurich. He also broke the record for the Golden Mile and the 800 metres.

1987: Caning was officially banned in Britain’s state schools. Independent schools were still allowed to punish pupils in this way.


1819: A crowd met on St Peter’s Field, Manchester, to demand parliamentary reforms, but the meeting was broken up by troops, among whom were Waterloo veterans. Eleven people died, and the occasion became known as the Peterloo Massacre.

1913: Birth of Menachem Begin. Begin was a member of the extremist Irgun Zvai Leumi, and later led the right-wing Likud. He became Prime Minister of Israel from 1977-83, during which time he made peace with Egypt and was joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

1960: On the stroke of midnight, Cyprus became a republic, led by Archbishop Makarios.

1962: Brian Epstein fired Pete Best as drummer of the Beatles, replacing him with Ringo Starr.

1975: Drummer Phil Collins took over as Genesis’ lead singer on the departure of Peter Gabriel.

2012: The Aztec, Hopi and Mayan Indians believed that on this day the earth will complete a 5,000-year cycle and change its ‘time beam’ to enter a new age.


National day of Indonesia, marking its independence in 1945 after Japanese occupation.

1786: Birth of Davy (David) Crockett, US frontiersman and politician. He grew up in the woods and had little formal education during his childhood. He was elected to Congress in 1827, and a legend grew up around him which was renewed in 1955 by a Disney film about his life. He was portrayed as a raw backwoodsman, hunting bears and raccoons and wearing a trademark ‘coonskin’ hat. In fact, he was not entirely without sophistication; much of the myth was encouraged. He was actually quite articulate and showed good business sense in a number of deals.

1896: The great gold rush of 1898 was set off when gold was discovered at Bonanza Creek, a small tributary of the Klondike River in the Yukon. The settlement of Dawson grew into a city with a population of about twenty-five thousand.

1896: Death of Mrs Bridget Driscoll of Croydon, Surrey, the first pedestrian in Britain to die after being hit by a car. It is said that she froze in panic at the sight of the oncoming car, which was travelling at four miles per hour.

1977: The Soviet nuclear-powered icebreaker Artika became the first to reach the North Pole.

1987: In Cincinnati, Ohio, Donald Harvey was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for the murder of 28 people. A former nurses’ aide, he was charged with killing 20 patients at a public hospital, among others, and he admitted to more than 50 murders.

1989: The first non-stop flight from London to Sydney was achieved by an Australian commercial airliner.

1989: Richard Hart was the first suspect in Britain to be supervised by electronic tagging. He was accused of theft, but the tag allowed him to return home.


1587: Birth of Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents to be born in America, a week after Sir Walter Raleigh’s second expedition landed to try to establish a colony. The area where she was born is now North Carolina.

1743: The first rules of boxing were confirmed this day. The rules were devised by Jack Broughton, Britain’s third heavyweight champion. Broughton later invented the first boxing gloves, called ‘mufflers’.

1774: Birth of Meriwether Lewis, American explorer. He and William Clark led the first overland expedition to the Pacific Northwest.

1792: Birth of John Russell, 1st Earl Russell. He was Prime Minister of Britain from 1846-52, and served a second term from 1865-6. He was a strong supporter of the Parliamentary Reform Bill.

1830: Birth of Franz Joseph I, Austro-Hungarian Emperor. His invasion of Serbia in 1914 was one of the events that triggered World War I.

1908: Birth of Edgar Fauré, Prime Minister of France in 1952 and again from 1955-6.

1917: Birth of Caspar (Willard) Weinberger, US statesman. Weinberger served during the Nixon and Ford administrations, and was Secretary of Defence for Ronald Reagan. He was awarded an honorary KBE.

1930: The two halves of Sydney Bridge met in the middle, and were officially joined.

1939: Opening in New York of the film The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland.

1959: At the British Motor Corporation, designer Alec Issigonis unveiled the first Mini Minor.

1964: South Africa was banned from the Olympics because of its racial policies.


1646: Birth of John Flamsteed, Britain’s first Astronomer Royal. He charted thousands of stars, and Newton was later to draw upon his work.

1743: Birth of the Comtesse du Barry (Marie Jeanne Becu), last mistress of Louis XV. On the king’s death in 1774, she was dismissed from the court, and later died at the guillotine when the Revolutionary Tribunal found her guilty of squandering state treasures.

1843: Birth of Charles Montague Doughty, who wrote many accounts of his wide explorations of Egypt, Syria and the Holy Land.

1897: The first electric-powered cabs began operating in London. They were withdrawn as uneconomical within three years, as they had a range of only 30 miles and an average speed of 9 mph.

1960: A Soviet court sentenced Gary Powers to ten years’ detention. Powers was piloting a US U-2 spy plane when he was brought down by Soviet forces.

1987: Death of 16 people in Hungerford, Hertfordshire, when 27-year-old Michael Ryan opened fire. 14 people were wounded, and one of the dead was Ryan’s own mother. He proceeded to set fire to his mother’s house, and the worst civil massacre in modern British history ended when he shot himself.

1989: In Poland, Solidarity’s Tadeusz Mazowiecki became Prime Minister, making Poland the first Eastern Bloc country to end one-party rule.


1833: Birth of Benjamin Harrison, grandson of the ninth US President, later to become the 23rd President.

1913: In Sheffield, Harry Brearley cast stainless steel for the first time.

1913: Adolphe Pégond was the first person to bail out from a plane when he leapt 700 feet from a Blériot craft above Buc in France. His parachute brought him safely to land.

1924: Eric Liddel, the British sprinter, declined to run in the heats of the 100 metres at the Paris Olympics because they were held on a Sunday, going against his religious beliefs. He had been a favourite to win, but he went on to set a new record when he won the 400 metres on a weekday.

1940: Death of Leon Trotsky, from head injuries he received when Ramon Mercader, a Stalinist agent, struck him several times with an ice pick. Mercader had been posing as Trotsky’s supporter after the latter found asylum in Mexico.

1940: As the Battle of Britain raged in the sky overhead, Winston Churchill uttered these famous words in his broadcast: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’

1956: In Cumberland, the Calder Hall nuclear power station generated Britain’s first nuclear power.

1968: Invasion of Czechoslovakia by Russian troops.

1989: Death of 51 young people when the Marchioness, a Thames pleasure boat, was rammed in the stern by a barge. There were 125 partygoers on board. The boat sank in the early morning.


1754: Birth of William Murdock, Scottish engineer. In 1792, while working to develop steam engines with James Watt and Matthew Boulton, he invented coal gas lighting. He distilled the coal to produce the gas, which he then used to light his cottage and offices.

1765: Birth of William IV, King of England. William joined the Royal Navy at the age of 13, and was a close friend of Nelson. This, and his action during the American Revolution, earned him the nickname ‘the sailor king’. He was a legendary womanizer, and had ten illegitimate children by Dorothea Jordan, an Irish actress who had great success at Drury Lane.

1858: The ‘Sam Browne belt’ was invented by Sir Sam Browne, VC, Commander of the 2nd Punjab Cavalry. After losing an arm in action, he needed the belt to carry his sword and pistol. His invention proved its worth even for two-armed British soldiers, who were soon wearing it as standard kit.

1901: In Detroit, the Cadillac Motor Company was formed. It was named after the French explorer who founded that city.

1911: An Italian housepainter, Vincenzo Perruggia, stole the Mona Lisa - probably the world’s most famous painting - from the Louvre. It was an act of retaliation against all the Frenchmen who had ever called him a ‘macaroni eater’. Two years later, Perruggia sent a note to a Florence art dealer, tipping him off that the painting was hidden under a bed in a hotel. That hotel was renamed the Gioconda, after the painting’s Italian title.

1930: Birth at Glamis Castle, Scotland, of Princess Margaret (Rose), the Queen’s younger sister.

1959: Hawaii was the 50th and last state to join the Union.

1965: Keith Peacock was the first substitute to be permitted by the Football League when he went on for his team, Charlton Athletic.

1976: In Battle, East Sussex, 25-year-old Mary Langdon was the first woman in Britain to join the fire brigade.

1983: Death of Benigno Aquino, exiled leader of the Philippines’ opposition party. President Marcos had promised him a safe return from exile. As television cameras filmed him stepping off the plane at Manila airport, he was shot dead.

1988: At midnight, more flexible licensing laws came into force, allowing pubs to remain open for 12 hours a day from Monday to Saturday.


1485: The Wars of the Roses ended on Bosworth Field in Leicestershire. Richard III (Richard Plantagenet) was killed, his troops defeated by Henry VII’s men.

1642: In Nottingham, Charles I erected his standard in front of a few hundred Royalists (Cavaliers), beginning the Civil War against the pro-parliament Roundheads in the south.

1741: Birth of Jean François de Galaup de la Pérouse, French navigator. In the war against the British he destroyed the forts of the Hudson Bay Company. In 1785 he reached the Asian coast and Botany Bay on an exploratory voyage.

1950: The Egyptian Lt Abdel Rehim won the first swimming race across the Channel. He crossed in ten hours, fifty minutes.

1960: The satirical revue Beyond the Fringe opened in Edinburgh, and proved itself as one of the most important shows of its kind in the twentieth century.

1985: 55 people died from fire and fumes when a British Airtours Boeing 737 caught fire at the end of the runway at Manchester airport after takeoff was aborted. 80 people escaped.

1989: The world’s first pocketphones - small radio handsets which operated within 100 yards of a public base station - were introduced by British Telecom.


410: The end of the Roman empire arrived as the Visigoths sacked Rome.

1754: Birth of Louis XVI, the last king of France. His actions, and those of his wife Marie Antoinette, provoked the Revolution.

1914: The British Expeditionary Forces took part in their first battle, the Battle of Mons. This was also the first battle in which the Victoria Cross was awarded for gallantry in the war.

1927: Death by electric chair of Nicola Saccho and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian-born anarchists living in the US. They had been convicted of a payroll robbery in which two people were killed. The verdict provoked worldwide objections, since many believed that the men had been executed for their political views and might not have been guilty of the robbery. The judge refused to reopen the case, even after it was revealed that the Morelli gang had committed the robbery. Finally, in 1977, the Governor of Massachusetts officially cleared them, but of course, the executed men remained dead.

1938: In the fifth Test against Australia at The Oval, Len Hutton scored a world record 364 in 13 hours and 20 minutes. That was more than England’s totals in each of their last ten innings. England were all out for a record 903. In honour of the event, church bells pealed 364 times.

1939: Germany and Russia signed a non-aggression pact. The pact did not last long, but it did give Hitler the opportunity to attack Poland.

1939: At Bonneville Flats, Utah, the British driver John Cobb attained a speed of 368.85 mph.

1940: German bombers carried out an all-night raid on London, marking the start of the Blitz.


Feast day of Bartholomew, patron saint of tanners and shoemakers.

79: Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompeii and Herculaneum in volcanic ash.

1572: Thousands of French Huguenots were murdered in Paris, by order of Catherine de’Medici and the Catholic French court. The bloodshed came to be known as the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

1690: Calcutta, India’s largest city, was founded this day when Job Charnock established a trading post for the English East India Company. At that time, the West Bengali village of Kalikata had only a small population.

1759: Birth of William Wilberforce, English philanthropist. He campaigned for many important causes, most notably the abolition of slavery in Britain and its colonies, the French Revolution, and the political emancipation of Catholics. His efforts against slavery first bore fruit on 25 March 1807, when a bill came into force abolishing the slave trade in the British West Indies. France made him an honorary citizen, causing him great embarrassment.

1787: Birth in Ostend of James Wedell, English explorer. He explored the edge of the Antarctic, reaching the most southern point at that time, three degrees below Cook’s furthest journey. He also gave the South Orkneys their name.

1814: General Ross led British troops into Washington and set fire to the White House and the Capitol. Both were later rebuilt and enlarged.

1847: Charlotte Brontë, alias Currer Bell, sent her manuscript for Jane Eyre to her London publishers, Smith, Elder & Company.

1940: The Lancet reported that Professor Howard Florey of Adelaide, and Professor Ernest Chain, had achieved the first purification of penicillin.

1957: The 17-year-old Jimmy Greaves made his football debut for Chelsea.


Feast day of Louis, patron saint of France and of barbers. He died near Tunis on this day in 1720, while leading a Crusade.

National day of Uruguay, marking its independence from Spain in 1825.

325: The rules for calculating the date of Easter each year, were decided by the General Council of Nicaea.

1530: Birth of Ivan IV, first Tsar of Russia. He campaigned against the Tartars, expanding the Russian state. But he earned the title ‘the Terrible’ because of his violent and debauched regime, under which over 3000 people were executed, including his own son.

1804: At York, Alicia Meynell rode Vingarillo over a four-mile racecourse to become the first recorded woman jockey. She was in the lead most of the way against only one other contestant, but lost.

1819: Birth in Scotland of Allan Pinkerton, who settled in the US in 1842. In 1846 he was made deputy sheriff of Kane County after catching a gang of counterfeiters. In 1850, he resigned to found the famous Pinkerton National Detective Agency, specializing in train robbery, a relatively new kind of crime.

1830: Stephenson’s Northumbrian took a trial run to prepare for the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Actress Fanny Kemble rode on the footplate, the first woman to do so.

1837: Henry William Crawford, of London, patented the production process for galvanized iron.

1841: The first women to be granted degrees, graduated this day as Bachelors of Arts at the Oberlin College Institute, Ohio. British women would not be granted degrees until 1880.

1875: Captain Matthew Webb reached Calais after 22 hours of swimming the breaststroke all the way from Dover. He was the first person ever to swim the English Channel.

1919: Birth of George (Corley) Wallace, the reactionary Governor of Alabama. After an assassination attempt, he carried out his duties from a wheelchair.

1919: The first scheduled international air service began with the first daily flights between Paris and London.

1928: Liverpool FC’s famous Kop was opened at their Anfield ground. It was named after Spion Kop in South Africa, where a famous battle took place during the Boer War.

1978: The Shroud of Turin was displayed for the first time on the high altar of St John’s Cathedral, Turin.

1989: The spacecraft Voyager revealed two undiscovered moons of Neptune, when it sent back pictures of Triton at the end of its 12-year mission.


1346: During this first decade of the Hundred Years War, the English, led by Edward III and his son Edward the Black Prince, won the Battle of Crécy against Philip VI of France. It was at this battle that the English first used the gesture of holding up two fingers as an insult.

1676: Birth of Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford. He was a Whig politician who became the first Prime Minister. He was also the first Lord of the Treasury and the first Chancellor of the Exchequer.

1740: Birth of Joseph Michel Montgolfier, who, with his brother Jacques Etienne Montgolfier, invented the hot air balloon. Between them, they devised many improvements for their family papermaking business. Among Joseph’s inventions were a hydraulic ram, and an air pump for removing paper from moulds.

1743: Birth of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry. He was also partly responsible for introducing the metric system into France, as a member of an advisory commission.

1789: The Declaration of the Rights of Man was adopted by France’s National Assembly.

1819: Birth in Bavaria of Prince Albert, as Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. As Consort to Queen Victoria, he exerted considerable power behind the throne. He persuaded Victoria towards more progressive views in some areas. He also took a keen interest in the arts, and he organized the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace.

1873: Birth of Lee De Forest, inventor of the Audion vacuum tube. The tube, patented in 1907, made radio and television broadcasting possible. It was a key component in electronics until the transistor was invented.

1920: The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution gave women the right to vote.

1936: Over 7,000 people queued to see the first high definition television pictures on sets at the Olympia Radio Show, west London. The pictures were transmitted by the BBC from Alexandra Palace, introduced by Leslie Mitchell, their first announcer.

1940: The RAF retaliated against attacks on London by bombing Berlin for the first time.

1952: The Soviets announced that the first successful tests had been carried out on the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

1988: The American Lynne Cox set endurance records by swimming across Lake Baikal, Siberia, for the first time. It took her four hours and twenty minutes to swim the 11 miles.


551 BC: One possible birth date of Confucius, probably China’s most famous man. The great philosopher’s sayings are still quoted around the world.

1783: The Montgolfier brothers helped Jacques Alexandre César Charles launch the first practical hydrogen balloon. Charles coated the balloon’s skin with varnish, preventing gas from permeating it.

1784: In Edinburgh, James Tytler made Britain’s first free flight ascent in a balloon.

1859: Edwin Drake drilled the world’s first oil well at Titusville, Pennsylvania.

1877: Birth of The Hon Charles Stewart Rolls, English motor manufacturer. Rolls was also an aviator, being the first to fly non-stop across the English Channel and back in 1910. He was a keen motorist, and participated in several long-distance races. In 1906 he formed a partnership with Henry Royce to manufacture luxury cars.

1883: The most catastrophic volcanic eruption ever witnessed took place on the island of Pulau, in the Selat strait, between Java and Sumatra. When Krakatoa erupted, the ash and debris was propelled at least 50 miles high. The blast was audible in Australia, over two thousand miles away. Tidal waves reached as far as Hawaii, killing thousands of people.

1908: Birth of Lyndon Baines Johnson, 30th US President. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Johnson took over. He easily won the election the following year, but made himself unpopular by escalating the war in Vietnam.

1910: Birth in Albania of Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhui). She founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to serving the poor and the sick. She was very active in India, opening many centres, including several for lepers. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, and in 1986 the Queen awarded her the Order of Merit.

1910: Edison used phonograph records in a demonstration of sound film projection at his laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey.

1913: The first loop-the-loop was performed by the Russian Lieutenant Peter Nesterov.

1966: Francis Chichester became the first old-age pensioner to sail solo around the world, when he set out from Plymouth in Gypsy Moth IV.

1967: Death of Brian Epstein, from an overdose of sleeping pills, at his home in London. Epstein had played a key role in the success of the Beatles.

1979: Death of Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Queen’s cousin. The IRA exploded a 50lb, remote-controlled bomb on his boat Shadow V off the coast of County Sligo, Ireland.

1987: A young Chinese girl had been left to live with a family of pigs, and was suckled by them. She underwent three years of special training, learning to speak and sing children’s songs, and on this day, she returned to normal life at the age of 13.


1850: The Channel telegraph cable was laid between Dover and Cap Gris Nez.

1850: First performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin at Weimar.

1884: Birth in Scotland of Peter Fraser, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1940-49.

1933: For the first time, the police worked with the BBC to track down a suspect. The BBC broadcast an appeal for information about Stanley Hobday, wanted for murder.

1953: Over 300,000 people heard Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., make his famous speech ‘I have a dream’ at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The speech was the culmination of the civil rights march from the South.

1988: West Germany placed a ban on air displays after a terrible crash during an aerobatic show at the US base in Ramstein. Three Italian Airforce jets collided over an audience of 300,000, killing over 30 people and causing 500 injuries.


1619: Birth of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, French statesman. He founded the French Navy, and as finance minister to Louis XIV, he introduced reforms which re-established France as a major power in Europe.

1782: Death of Admiral Richard Kempefelt, a genius in the field of naval signalling and communications, along with 900 others, when the HMS Royal George sank off Spithead while at anchor.

1831: At the Royal Institute, London, Michael Faraday carried out the first successful public demonstration of his electrical transformer.

1835: John Batman bought 600,000 acres of land from the Aborigines, along the north shore of Port Phillip Bay. Within two years, the land was officially established as Melbourne, named after the British Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne.

1842: The British and Chinese signed the Treaty of Nanking to bring an end to the Opium War.

1885: In Germany, Gottlieb Daimler patented the first motorcycle.

1895: At the George Hotel, Huddersfield, twenty-one rugby clubs met to form the Northern Union. In 1922 the Union was renamed the Rugby League.

1918: Britain’s first police strike began at midnight, as 6000 policemen campaigned for better pay.

1944: Birth of Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indira. He began his career as an airline pilot, but after his mother, the Prime Minister, was assassinated, he took over her position.

1966: The Beatles played their last live concert at Candlestick Park, San Francisco.

1988: 14-year-old Matthew Sadler won a chess tournament in London, setting the British record for the youngest international chess master.


1860: The Birkenhead Street Railway began operating Britain’s first trams.

1862: At the Second Battle of Bull Run in Virginia, during the American Civil War, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson and the Confederate army defeated the Union.

1881: Clement Ader, a German, patented the first stereo system, for a telephonic broadcasting service.

1901: Hubert Cecil Booth of Scotland patented the vacuum cleaner, which he invented by reversing the action of a dustblowing machine.

1908: Birth of Ernest Rutherford (Baron Rutherford). While at Cambridge, his work established the foundations of modern atomic science. He was a Nobel prizewinner, for chemistry.

1917: Birth of Dennis Healey, former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer.

1933: Air France was formed.

1939: The evacuation of thousands of children began in Britain, as they were sent from the cities out into the country to escape the expected German bombs. The Second World War began four days later.

1941: The Siege of Leningrad began, and did not end until January 1943.

1963: The ‘hotline’ was established between the US President and the Soviet Premier. It was hoped that a direct line of communication would head off misunderstandings that might result in an accidental nuclear war.


12: Birth of Gaius Caesar, Roman emperor. He is better known by his childhood nickname of Caligula, meaning ‘little boots’ - and best remembered for his extreme cruelty and perversity.

1569: Birth of Jahangir, Mogul emperor. He encouraged the development of Persian culture in India, despite his heavy drinking and opium eating.

1880: Birth of Wilhelmina (Helena Pauline Maria of Orange-Nassau), Queen of the Netherlands. During the Second World War, she strongly encouraged her country’s resistance movement, even after she was forced to take refuge in Britain. Her actions were admired throughout the world.

1900: The first sales of Coca-Cola in Britain.

1928: Premiere in Berlin of Brecht and Weill’s musical, The Threepenny Opera.

1957: Malaya (now Malaysia) achieved independence.

1962: The former British possessions, Trinidad and Tobago, became independent.

1962: Chris Bonington and Ian Clough conquered the north face of the Eiger, the first British climbers to do so.

1972: In one day at the Munich Olympics, Mark Spitz won five gold medals for swimming, among them the 100-metre freestyle, the 200-metre freestyle, the 100-metre butterfly and the 200-metre butterfly. By the end of the Games, he had won two more gold medals, making seven in all.

1989: Buckingham Palace issued a statement announcing the Princess Royal’s (Princess Anne’s) separation from her husband, Captain Mark Phillips.

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