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December in History

By Edited Oct 22, 2015 3 5

Historical and interesting events that happened in December, some world changing, some not.[33]

December 1st, 1990

The Channel Tunnel is, currently, the tunnel with the greatest distance undersea of any tunnel in the world. It connects Britain and France with a rail line which carries passenger train, freight trains and roll-on/roll-off vehicle transport. The idea for a tunnel under the Channel is quite old, dating back to 1802. It wasn't until 1988 that construction on the Tunnel started. In 1990 , the British and French Channel Tunnel teams met in the middle with the service tunnel, although the Tunnel itself was not finished at that point nor formally opened until 1994.[1]

John Brown
December 2nd, 1859

John Brown was an abolitionist in the United States who decided to use armed insurrection in order to abolish slavery. From October 16th-18th 1859 he lead a raid on the U.S. arsenal in Harpers Ferry, in what is now West Virginia, but was then part of Virginia. The raid was defeated by then-Colonel Robert E. Lee commanding a group of U.S. Marines.

Brown was sentenced to be executed by public hanging for the crimes of murder, conspiracy and treason. This was carried out on December 2nd 1859 at Gibson-Todd House in Charles Town, West Virginia, although again at that point it was still in Virginia. A popular Union song during the Civil War, "John Brown's Body," gave reference to John Brown.[2][3][4]

December 3rd, 1989

This date was the official end of the Cold War. Several weeks before this the Berlin Wall, which divided the East German part of Berlin from the West German, came down. On December 2nd, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President George Bush (Snr.) met at the Malta Summit on the Mediterranean island and nation of Malta.

The summit lasted until the 3rd and, although no treaties were signed, is considered to mark the end of the 52 years of Cold War between the Western and Eastern Blocs, as both Gorbachev and Bush declared that it was over. The actual clearing up took a lot longer of course.[5]

December 4th, 1872

The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History
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This was the date of one of the most enduring maritime mysteries of all time. The brigantine Mary Celeste, a British-American merchant vessel sometimes referred to as the Marie Celeste, was a ship with a history of bad things happening, such as the death of three captains.

Mary Celeste

On November 5th, 1872, the ship set sail from New York. On December 4th the Canadian merchant ship Dei Gratia, another brigantine, caught sight of a ship that was behaving erratically. On drawing close they discovered that it was the Mary Celeste. The ship was abandoned, with all the crew missing. A pirate raid would have been suspected, but the cargo was still on board. There were also six months of supplies on board and all the crews personal possessions and valuables.

None of the crew were ever seen again. To this day, it is not known why, or how, they disappeared from the ship, with theories ranging from the mundane to alien abduction.[6]

December 5th, 1933

Prohibition, or the Eighteenth Amendment, came into law in the United States on January 17th, 1920. The amendment banned the sale, production, importation and transportation of alcoholic beverages, although it did not ban their consumption. People being people, they still wanted to drink, and people being people, a service grew to accommodate that demand. This led to the growth or organised crime movements who handled the illegal sides of the operation - everything but drinking it.

On December 5th the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment, marking the end of Prohibition.[7]

December 6th, 1774

On this date, Empress Maria Theresa, the ruler of Austria (and Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma) passed a law known as the "General School Regulations." This started education reform in Austria by creating an education system, and was the first state education system set up.[8]


December 7th, 1941

Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions
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Pearl Harbor is a U.S. Naval base on Oahu, Hawaii and the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Pearl Harbor Attack

On December 8th, a surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy was launched against the United States at Pearl Harbor with the intent of pre-emptively destroying the U.S.'s naval capability in the Pacific. Similar attacks were also launched against other U.S. and British bases in the Pacific.

The Japanese attack damaged all eight and sank four battleships (three of which were later raised), sand or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers a minelayer and an anti-aircraft training ship. 188 aircraft were destroyed and 2,402 Americans were killed. The attack led to the U.S. entering World War II, first declaring war on the Empire of Japan, and then on Germany and Italy after the latter two responded to the United States' declaration of war against Japan with their own against the U.S.[9]

December 8th, 1980

John Lennon was a British musician who was a singer, songwriter and one of the founders of The Beatles. After The Beatles split up he pursued a solo career.

In New York he lived in a famous building known as The Dakota, considered to be one of the city's most prestigious apartment buildings. On December 8th he was entering the building with his wife Yoko Ono, when 25 year-old Mark David Chapman approached Lennon and shot him five times. Chapman had previously intended to murder Lennon in October but changed his mind, and had an album signed by him and a picture taken together earlier on.

Chapman claimed to be incensed by Lennon's remarks that he was "more popular than Jesus" and the dichotomy between some of his song lyrics and his personal wealth.[10]

December 9th, 1991

Robert Maxwell was a former British MP and attempted media magnate, who considered himself a rival to Rupert Murdoch. On November 5th 1991 he disappeared from his yacht the Lady Ghislaine which was cruising  off the Canary Islands, and his body was later found in the ocean. His death was ruled to have been caused by the combination of a heart attack and accidental drowning.

It was discovered that at least £420 million was missing from the pension funds controlled by Maxwell, and the subsequent revelations and fallout resulted in Maxwell's youngest son Kevin fighting in court to stop him from being kept in Britain.[11]

December 10th, 1979

Mother Theresa was an Albanian born Roman Catholic religious sister known for her charitable work, particular in India, and is known, after her death, as the Blessed Theresa of Calcutta.

Her work caused her to be awarded the Noble Peace Prize on this date.[12]

Edward VIII
December 11th, 1936

Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, better known as King Edward VIII, ascended to the British throne on 20th January 1936 following the death of his father, George V.

Edward VIII wished to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee, when she was free to do so, but was told that this would be considered unacceptable by his subjects and by the Church of England (of which he was the nominal head), which opposed the concept of remarriage after divorce. After his alternative in which he proposed that he would marry Wallis, but she would not become queen, was rejected, Edward announced that he would abdicate if he was not allowed to marry her.

On December 10th he signed the abdication papers, and on December 11th his last official act as monarch was to give royal assent to his own abdication. Edward VIII is the only British monarch to have voluntarily abdicated the throne since the Anglo-Saxon period, and his reign lasted only 327 days, the shortest since that of Lady Jane Grey, who was never truly the monarch anyway.[13]

December 12th, 1901

The Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi is best known for his work regarding long distance radio transmission and related fields.

Following on from earlier work he announced that he had successfully made a transmission from Signal Hill, St John's, Newfoundland to a station in Poldhu, Cornwall in Britain. The test carried out was the simple transmission of three clicks, signalling the Morse code symbol "S." His initial test results were met with scepticism, as there was no independent verification, and the transmission was reportedly hard to distinguish from background noise. Marconi continued with better organised and documented tests.[14]

December 13th, 2003

Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti, better known as Saddam Hussein, was the leader of Iraq from 1979 until 2003, although he was in effective control of the country for some years before he formally took power.

On 20th March 2003 a U.S. led invasion of Iraq resulted in Hussein being ousted from power on April 9th of the same year following the capture of Baghdad by coalition forces, causing him to go into hiding.

He was captured on this date by American forces at a farmhouse in ad-Dawr near Tikrit, where he was found hiding in a hole.[15]

George Washington
December 14th, 1799

George Washington was the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and the first President of the United States, serving two terms, and the only U.S. President to have received 100% of the electoral votes, although the system at the time worked differently, as each elector had two votes. The runner up also became Vice President, something unlikely to be seen in today's political climes.

On December 12th Washington became ill, with his actual illness still not known for certain, and died in his home on his Mount Vernon estate on the 14th, aged 67.[16]

December 15th, 1966

Walter Elias "Walt" Disney was the co-founder, with his brother Roy, of Walt Disney Productions, which is now known as The Walt Disney Company or, popularly, simply as "Disney."

Walt Disney is best known for his animated characters such as Mickey Mouse and has received more awards and nominations than any other person in history.

He died in 1966 of lung cancer. The next year, the construction began on Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.[17]

December 16th, 1773

Originally referred to as "the Destruction of the Tea in Boston" by John Adams, the event was later known as the Boston Tea Party.

Demonstrators in Boston, Massachusetts, disguised as Indians (that was the acceptable term of the time), boarded the tea ships Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beavor and threw all 342 chests of tea into the water. The protest was done over the 1773 Tea Act and its corresponding taxation, which was believed to violate the colonists rights as Englishmen of "no taxation without representation." This was one of the major triggers for the American War of Independence, although much of the actual facts of the event, including its location, are not known today.[18]

Flyer 1
December 17th, 1903

On this date, in front of a total audience of five people, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew their aircraft, known as Flyer 1, four times near the town of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina.

The successful flight of Flyer 1, or the Wright Flyer, even though it only achieved a height of several feet, lasted about a minute, and travelled 850 ft for the longest flight, was the first sustained and controlled heavier than air powered flight. It is also described in similar terms but with a pilot onboard.[19]

December 18th, 1865

Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment
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On this date the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was proclaimed as officially adopted by U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward.

The amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a criminal punishment. On January 1st 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all the slaves in the ten states that were in rebellion. This was not a law at the time; the Thirteenth Amendment was passed by the U.S. Senate in 1864, the House of Representatives in 1865 and was adopted on December 6th.[20]

December 19th, 1991

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the head of state of the Soviet Union, and its' last.

Gorbachev was briefly ousted in a coup in August 1991. The coup failed, but this led to the direct dissolution of the Soviet Union. After eleven of the remaining twelve former Soviet republics announced that they were forming the Commonwealth of Independent States, he announced that he would step down as President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which resignation he announced on December 25th.[21]

December 20th, 1803

A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America
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Described as the largest land purchase in history, the Louisiana Purchase was the acquisition of France's claim to the territory of Louisiana by the United States.

The area totalled 828,000 square miles and cost 50 million francs, plus the cancellation of 18 million francs in debt, or a total of $15 million.

The Louisiana Purchase did not simply consist of land in modern day Louisiana, but included that of all or part of 15 current U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces.

New Orleans was turned over to the U.S. on this date, although the treaty was signed earlier and the formal ceremony was held in 1804.[22]

General George Patton
December 21st, 1945

U.S. General George Smith Patton commanded the Seventh United States Army and later the Third United States Army in the European Theatre of World War II. He was a colourful, hard driving leader, as well as a successful commander, although he had a tendency to make controversial public statements.

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, Patton was the military governor of Bavaria until his relief, at which point he commanded the Fifteenth United States Army.

On December 8th, whilst riding in a 1938 Cadillac Model 75 staff car to go on a pheasant hunting trip near Speyer, when the car had a low speed collision with a 2½ ton GMC truck. Patton struck his head on the glass partition, and was taken to hospital, having suffered a neck injury that left him paralysed. He later died of congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema on the 21st.[23]

December 22nd, 1895

German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen is credited with the discovery of X-rays, which he termed X-radiation, and are sometimes called Röntgen rays after him, although he was not the first to discover them so much as the first to systematically study them.

On December 22nd he performed the first medical X-ray, taking a picture of the skeletal structure of his wife's hand. It was not known until later the adverse effects radiation has on human tissue at high enough doses.[24]

Cromford Mill
December 23rd, 1732

Sir Richard Arkwright, an English inventor and industrialist, was born on this day.

Arkwright, although he may not be widely known today, is credited with a number of inventions such as the spinning frame, and was at the time widely recognised and celebrated.

Today, some of his factories and constructions such as Cromford Mill, and the associated town of Cromford - which was built to house workers at the mill - and canal, may still be visited, although they are no longer function, in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site in Derbyshire, England.[25]

December 24th, 1828

William Burke who, along with his partner William Hare, committed the notorious West Point murders in Edinburgh, went on trial on this day.

The pair had discovered how much anatomists were willing to pay for dead bodies and, rather than dig up bodies like Resurrection Men did, they decided to make their own by murdering people. During the ten months in which they operated, they killed (probably) 16 people and sold their bodies.

Burke was found guilty and executed for this crimes.

December 25th, 1085

In 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, defeated the army of King Harold of England at the Battle of Hastings, which eventually resulted in him becoming King William I of England.

In 1085, whilst spending Christmas in Gloucester, William ordered that a survey be done of much of England and Wales, noting who owned what. This survey, which became known as the Domesday Book, was the largest survey of its' type done in Britain and was not equalled until 1873. The survey was completed in 1086, a fairly impressive accomplishment for the time.[26]

December 26th, 1890

The German archaeologist and businessman Heinrich Schliemann is credited with the discovery of the site of Homer's Troy, or Hissarlik, in modern Turkey. This discovery led credence to the idea that Homer's works were based on historical events and were not simply fictional. He was one of the pioneers of the study of Bronze Age Aegean civilization, although he has since been criticised in his excavation techniques, which included the use of dynamite, and have been stated to have destroyed many of the main layers of Troy.

He died in Naples of cholesteatoma.[27]

Charles Darwin
December 27th, 1831

On this date, the British Royal Navy Cherokee-class brig-sloop HMS Beagle, set sail on a voyage of almost five years under the command of captain Robert FitzRoy. The voyage covered islands in the Atlantic, the South American coast and the Galapagos islands, New Zealand, Australia, parts of the Indian Ocean and Cape Town.

Before sailing, FitzRoy advertised for the position of a self-funded naturalist for the ship. A young graduate by the name of Charles Darwin applied, and was accepted, for the position. Darwin made extensive notes during the voyage which were published as The Voyage of the Beagle. Darwin later became one of the most recognised proponents of evolutionary theory.[28]

December 28th, 1908

A 7.1 momentum magnitude earthquake with an epicentre near the Sicilian city of Messina and the mainland Italian city of Reggio Calabria struck on this date, almost completely destroying the two cities.

The earthquake is considered to be the deadliest European natural disaster, with between 100 and 200 thousand people being killed by the earthquake, tsunami and after effects.[29]

HMS Warrior
December 29th, 1860

HMS Warrior was an armoured frigate launched by the British Royal Navy on this date, although she wasn't commissioned until August 1st 1961.

The Warrior was the first armour plated and iron hulled warship in the world, combining many existing and tested technologies along with her wrought iron armour to make her the biggest and most powerful warship in the world at that time. The ship is now part of the National Historic Fleet and can be seen in Portsmouth.[30]

December 30th, 1916

Rasputin: The Untold Story
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Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, known as the Mad Monk, was a Russian peasant and mystic who was a close confidant of Russia's ruling Romanovs, especially the Tsarina Alexandra.

A previous attempt had been made on his life, but his actual assassination on December 30th has passed into legend, with the true story being distorted by the men who killed him. Various members of the Russian ruling class were disturbed by Rasputin's hold over the Romanovs and decided to have him killed. Allegedly, Rasputin was first poisoned, which didn't work, then shot, shot again, clubbed and finally thrown into the, ice covered, river.[31]

December 31st, 1891

Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, was an immigration station for the United States and the busiest between 1892 and 1954.

The station was officially opened on the New Year.[32]

On This Day: The History of the World in 366 Days
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(price as of Oct 22, 2015)


Nov 27, 2013 9:52am
Such a wonderful article with lots of information.
Thanks for sharing egd.
Nov 27, 2013 12:46pm
Thanks, I had fun writing it.
Dec 25, 2013 6:02am
I enjoyed that you had something for every day of the month. Thumb's up!
Dec 27, 2013 7:59am
Thanks! I spent quite a bit of time with an older edition of the book in the Amazon module. A great book if you like this sort of trivia.
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  1. "Channel Tunnel." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  2. "John Brown (Abolitionist)." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  3. "John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  4. "John Brown's Body." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  5. "Malta Summit." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  6. "Mary Celeste." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  7. "Prohibition in the United States." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  8. "Culture of Austria." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  9. "Pearl Harbor attack." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  10. "Death of John Lennon." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  11. "Robert Maxwell." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  12. "Mother Teresa." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  13. "Edward VIII abdication crisis." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  14. "Guglielmo Marconi." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  15. "Saddam Hussein." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  16. "George Washington." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  17. "Walt Disney." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  18. "Boston Tea Party." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  19. "Flyer 1." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  20. "13th Amendment to the United States Constitution." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  21. "Mikhail Gorbachev." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  22. "Louisiana Purchase." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  23. "George Patton." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  24. "Wilhelm Röntgen." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  25. "Sir Richard Arkwright." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  26. "Domesday Book." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  27. "Heinrich Schliemann." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  28. "Second voyage of HMS Beagle." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  29. "1908 Messina Earthquake." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  30. "HMS Warrior (1860)." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  31. "Rasputin." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  32. "Ellis Island." Wikipedia. 26/11/2013 <Web >
  33. On This Day: The History of the World in 366 Days. London: Octopus Publishing Group Ltd, 2009.

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