Category Archives: This day in History

Last Dusky Seaside Sparrow Dies in Captivity (1987)

Thousands of dusky seaside sparrows once inhabited the natural salt marshes around Merritt Island and the area along the St. Johns River in southern Florida. The non-migratory birds lived exclusively in this small area, and this proved to be their undoing. From the 1940s onward, pesticides, pollution, and habitat loss caused the subspecies’ population to decline precipitously. By 1979, just six males remained. Why were the remaining birds eventually relocated to Walt Disney World theme park? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

The Soweto Riots (1976)

In 1974, the South African government passed a decree making it mandatory for black schools to split instruction between English and Afrikaans—a language that many associated with the segregationist apartheid government. Two years later, at least 10,000 people—most of them young students—marched to Orlando Stadium in the city of Soweto to protest the change. Violence erupted when police began firing shots, and the resulting Soweto Riots continued for months. How many died during the riots? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

The Battle of Saipan Begins (1944)

With an approximate area of just 45 sq mi (117 sq km), the island of Saipan was the site of some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific theater of World War II. The US invasion in mid-June surprised the Japanese, who had expected an attack farther south. After a month of brutal fighting, the US captured Saipan and made the island a base for air attacks on the Japanese mainland. About 22,000 Saipan civilians—the majority of the population—died during the battle. Why did many commit suicide? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Falklands War: Argentine Forces Surrender to the British (1982)

Both Argentina and Britain had long claimed sovereignty over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean when, despite ongoing negotiations, Argentina invaded the islands with 10,000 troops in April 1982. About 250 British soldiers and about 700 Argentines died before Argentina surrendered, ending the undeclared, 74-day war. The defeat discredited Argentina’s military government and helped lead to the restoration of civilian rule in 1983. Who claims sovereignty over the islands today? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

"The Cinderella Man" Becomes World Heavyweight Champion (1935)

For budding boxer James J. Braddock, 1929 was a bad year. The promising pugilist narrowly lost a 15-round championship fight and, months later, the Great Depression struck. Braddock, struggling to support his family and losing many more bouts than he won, eventually gave up boxing to work the docks. In 1934, he returned to the ring, and a year later, he landed a title shot against Max Baer. Braddock was a 10-to-1 underdog but won in a stunning upset. Who beat Braddock for the title in 1937? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

The Armagh Rail Disaster (1889)

In 1889, a Sunday school train excursion in Armagh, Ireland, turned tragic when the train stalled while climbing a steep hill. The crew decoupled the cars, intending to climb the hill with the first few cars and then pull the remaining cars separately, but the back section had insufficient brakes and rolled down into an oncoming train. At least 78 people were killed in the crash, including many children. What had the crew put behind the wheels to prevent the train cars from rolling backwards? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

The Le Mans Disaster (1955)

The legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans motor race was created in 1923, when cars’ top speeds hovered around 60 mph (97 km/h). Thirty years later, top speeds had more than tripled, with little change to the course. In the 1955 race, a narrow pass near the pit stop caused racer Pierre Levegh to hit another car from behind while traveling at about 150 mph (240 km/h). Levegh’s Mercedes went airborne, and parts flew into the stands, killing Levegh and more than 80 spectators. Why did the race continue? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

London's Millennium Bridge Opens, Promptly Closes (2000)

When tens of thousands of pedestrians crossed the Thames River via London’s Millennium Bridge on its opening day in 2000, many felt the steel suspension bridge sway, and the vibrations worsened as people adjusted their gaits to the motion. Nicknamed the “wobbly bridge” by Londoners, it closed just two days later for modifications to eliminate the sway and did not reopen until 2002. What prompted the bridge to close again in 2007 over concerns that pedestrians were in danger of being blown off? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown (1973)

Thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat was the first US Triple Crown champion in 25 years, setting records in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes that still stand today. In fact, in the 40 years since, only one Derby winner has even come close to matching Secretariat’s time of 1:59.40. Secretariat advanced from last to first to win the Preakness and won the Belmont Stakes by an unprecedented 31 lengths. What controversy arose regarding the time calculations of the 1973 Preakness? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Cult of the Supreme Being Inaugurated in France with National Festival (1794)

During the Reign of Terror, leading French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre devised the Cult of the Supreme Being as the official state religion in an attempt to counter the atheistic Cult of Reason. The deist religion, which avowed patriotism and the immortality of the soul, was celebrated with a huge festival in Paris in 1794. However, other revolutionaries soon sought to end Robespierre’s growing power, and he was guillotined less than two months later. What became of the religion? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary