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This Day in History - December 31

December 31

406 – 80,000 Vandals, Alans, and Suebians cross the Rhine at Mainz, beginning an invasion of Gallia

1384 – English theologian John Wycliffe dies

1600 – Queen Elizabeth I grants a formal charter to the merchants in London trading to the East Indies

1720 – Charles Edward Stuart, aka the Young Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie, the grandson of James II, is born

1744 – English astronomer James Bradley announces his discovery of Earth’s nutation motion

1775 – George Washington orders recruiting officers to accept free blacks into the army

1775 – The Patriots are defeated at Quebec in a failed attempt to capture it, and Patriot General Richard Montgomery is killed

1815 – Union general who defeated Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg, George Gordon Meade, is born

1852 – The highest earning year of the gold rush ends with $81.3 million in gold produced

1861 – A world rainfall record is set at Cherrapunji Assam in India with 22,990mm of rain recorded

1862 – Union General William Rosecrans’ army battles and wins two Confederate attacks at the Battle of Murfreesboro

1862 – Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest is nearly captured during a raid at Parker’s Crossroads in western Tennessee

1869 – French artist Henri Matisse is born

1879 – Inventor Thomas Edison lights up a street in Menlo Park, New Jersey in the first public demonstration of his incandescent light bulb

1880 – George Catlett Marshall, Chief of Staff of the US Army during World War II, the Secretary of State in the Truman Administration, and Nobel Peace Prize-winner for the Marshall Plan, is born

1889 – Romanian educator and author Ion Creanga dies

1890 – Ellis Island opens as a US immigration depot

1907 – Adolph Ochs, the owner of the New York Times, organizes the first annual ball drop at Times Square

1908 – Holocaust survivor who dedicated his life to tracking down former Nazis, Simon Wiesenthal, is born

1909 – The Manhattan Bridge opens for traffic

1910 – Two of America’s most well-known aviators, John Moisant and Arch Hoxsey, both die in separate plane crashes

1911 – Helene Dutrieu sets a distance record for women at 158 mi. when she wins the Femina Aviation Cup in Etampes

1915 – 335 passengers are killed when the British liner Persia is torpedoed by the Germans

1923 – An automobile crosses the Sahara for the first time

1927 – The Dearborn Independent, a platform for auto entrepreneur Henry Ford’s blatant anti-Semitism, is published for the last time during the height of its popularity.  Ford’s hatred of the Jews was also published in a book called “The International Jew:  The World’s Foremost Problem,” and it was a bestseller in Nazi Germany and remains in print today

1930 – Heir to brewery dynasty, Adolphus Busch is kidnapped

1937 – Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Hopkins is born

1941 – General MacArthur reports that the Japanese have pushed back the US lines in Manila

1941 – Scottish football player and manager Alex Ferguson is born

1942 – After five months of battle, Emperor Hirohito allows Japanese commanders at Guadalcanal to retreat

1943 – Musician and actor John Denver is born

1944 – Hungary declares war on Germany

1961 – President John Kennedy extends holiday wishes to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and the people of the Soviet Union

1963 – The Central African Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland is formally dissolved

1964 – The al-Fatah guerillas of Yasser Arafat launch their first terrorist raid on Israel

1965 – California becomes the largest state in population

1968 – The Soviet Union tests the TU-144 supersonic airliner for the first time

1968 – The most vicious year of the Vietnam War comes to an end.  181,150 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese had been killed, 27,915 South Vietnamese, 14,584 Americans, 979 South Koreans, Australians, New Zealanders and Thais.  Since 1961, 31,000 US servicemen had been killed and over 200,000 US personnel had been wounded

1972 – Future Hall of Fame baseball player and Puerto Rico native Roberto Clemente, is killed, along with four others, when his cargo plane crashes off the coast of Puerto Rico.  Clemente was on his way to deliver relief supplies to Nicaragua, who had suffered a devastating earthquake a week prior

1972 – Journalist and memoir author of A Drinking Life, Pete Hamill, quits drinking

1977 – Cambodia breaks ties with Vietnam

1977 – South Korean singer, songwriter, producer and dancer, Psy, is born

1978 – The US officially ends relations with Taiwan and will go on to recognize the government of the People’s Republic of China a day later

1980 – New Zealand rugby union football player Richie McCaw is born

1980 – Canadian author and theorist Marshall McLuhan dies

1983 – A military coup in Nigeria overthrew the civilian government of Shehu Shagari and replaced him with Major General Muhammadu Buhari

1984 – Bernhard Goetz, the “subway vigilante,” who shot four black men on a subway in New York City, turns himself into the police citing self-defense

1985 – Pop star and former teen idol Rick Nelson dies in a plane crash in De Kalb, Texas

1987 – Robert Mugabe is sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president

1990 – Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan is born

1999 – The Panama Canal is officially turned over to Panama by the US, in accordance with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties

2009 – Both a Blue Moon and lunar eclipse occurred on the same day and will not happen again on New Year’s Eve until 2028

2015 – American singer, songwriter and actress Natalie Cole dies


Written by Crystal McCann

Crystal is the Chief Operating Officer of Lanterns Media Network and the owner of Madisons Media. She lives in Texas with her husband and dogs and is the proud mother of two adult children.


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