December 31, 1695
Starting in 1696 England and Wales had a window tax. Income tax was considered an intrusion by the government, and most were opposed to it. Instead the government imposed a window tax. Each home paid a tax of two shillings, plus a tax for the number of windows above ten windows. This was considered to be a tax on the more wealthy, as the poorer families would have smaller homes. To avoid the tax, many people bricked up their windows. This tax was in place until 1851. In its place a tax on inhabited houses was instituted, and income tax was started in 1842.
December 31, 1862
President Abraham Lincoln signed papers recognizing West Virginia as a state of its own. Before this time, West Virginia and Virginia were one state. When Virginia voted to secede from the Union at the start of the civil war, some of the leadership of the state disagreed. For a time, there were two governments for the state organized. It was then decided to organize a split from the Virginia. A vote was taken, although under very questionable conditions, and the state of West Virginia was admitted to the Union on December 31, 1962, on the provision that its constitution should include the groundwork for the gradual abolition of slavery.
December 31, 1879
The first incandescent light bulb was invented in 1802 by Sir Humphry Davy. It did not work very well, as it was not very bright and did not last long before burning out. Many experimented over the years and came up with their own solutions. It is estimated about 22 inventors came up with some form of the light bulb. Thomas Edison started working on a version of his own in 1878. Edison worked on a lot of the other items needed for the infrastructure of a lighting system, so he is more well known for lighting and light bulbs.
December 31, 1944
The Manhattan Bridge is opened to traffic. This was the third of three suspension bridges built over the lower East River.
December 31, 1983
AT&T, an American company that provided telephone service to much of the United States and Canada, was ruled a monopoly in 1984, and broken up into many smaller companies. Earlier in the century, the federal government had let the company do business as a de facto monopoly. However, AT&T took it one step further, using their power to try and stop any completion in the phone business. In 1974 they had an antitrust lawsuit filed against them, and in 1984 AT&T were split into regional companies providing phone service.
December 31, 1999
Control of the Panama Canal is given over to Panama. The canal was designed to be a way to travel between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans without traveling down around the southern tip of South America. The idea was introduced in the 16th century. The French started construction in 1880, but gave up after too many worker deaths, mostly from disease. The United States’ attempt started in 1904, finishing in 1914. In 1977 a treaty was signed granting control of the canal back to Panama in 1999, providing that the canal would remain neutral.