1794: Eli Whitney was granted a patent for the cotton gin.
1903: The Hay-Herran Treaty, granting the United States the right to build the Panama Canal, was ratified by the U.S. Senate. Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order making Pelican Island, in Florida, a “preserve and breeding ground for native birds,” marking the birth of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
1964: A jury in Dallas, Texas, found Jack Ruby guilty of killing Lee Harvey Oswald, the purported assassin of President John F. Kennedy.
1970: The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (a precursor to Monty Python’s Flying Circus) performed for the last time at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England.
1989: President George H. W. Bush banned the import of assault rifles into the United States.
1994: The free, open-source computer operating system, Linux version 1.0.0, was released.
2004: Pope John Paul II became the second-longest serving pope in history.
2012: The publishers of the Encyclopaedia Britannica announced that they would cease publishing a print edition after 244 years in business. (The company continued offering an on-line version for $70 per year.)
1778: Martha Washington wrote a letter to a friend describing the harsh winter conditions at Valley Forge, which she called “The Great Valley.”
1820: Maine became the 23rd U.S. state.
1875: Archbishop of New York John McCloskey was named the first Roman Catholic cardinal in the United States.
1935: Born this day: evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, and actor Judd Hirsch.
1956: My Fair Lady received its premiere performance on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre.
1985: The first internet domain name was registered (symbolics.com).
1802: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was established to found and operate the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York
1912: Afflicted with gangrene and frostbite, Capt. Lawrence Oates, a member of Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed South Pole expedition, left his tent to die, saying, “I am just going outside and may be some time.”
1916: On orders from President Woodrow Wilson, the 7th and 10th US cavalry regiments under John J. Pershing crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to join the hunt for Pancho Villa.
1940: James Isbister, 27, became the first British civilian killed in enemy action during World War II, during a German bombing raid on Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.
1942: Nazi Germany test-launched the first V-2 rocket; it exploded at lift-off.
1953: The first St. Urho’s Day was celebrated in Virginia, Minn. Richard L. Mattson, a salesman at Ketola’s Department Store, created the legend, saying that St. Urho chased the grasshoppers out of ancient Finland, thus saving the grape crop and the jobs of Finnish vineyard workers. St. Urho did this by uttering the phrase, “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” (roughly translated: “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!”). The event is now celebrated by many people around the world, including Ed Laitinen and Ron Snyder of Libby, Mont.
1958: The Ford Motor Company produced its 50 millionth automobile, the Thunderbird, averaging almost a million cars a year since the company was founded in 1908.
1968: The My Lai Massacre occurred when U.S. troops led by Lt. William Calley killed between 347 and 504 Vietnamese men, women and children in two villages.
1988: Lt. Col. Oliver North and Vice Adm. John Poindexter were indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States in connection with the Iran-Contra Affair. The Kurdish town of Halabja in Iraq was attacked with a combination of poison gas and toxic nerve agents on the orders of Saddam Hussein; 5,000 people were killed and about 10,000 were injured.
1995: Mississippi formally ratified the 13th Amendment, becoming the last state to approve the abolition of slavery. The 13th Amendment was officially ratified in 1865.
1996: The first Irish Fair, known then as the St. Patrick’s Day Irish Fair & Music Festival, was held in Libby, Mont. The day-long event included a parade on Mineral Ave., arts and crafts fair at Memorial Gym, corned beef and cabbage dinners at 20 restaurants in Libby and Troy, and an evening concert featuring several performers including Kevin Burke, an international recording star and Irish fiddler; the Regent Irish Step Dancers from Calgary, Alberta; Shaughnessy Hill Band from Libby; Walter Charm, an Irish uilleann pipe virtuoso from Seattle, and; Tannersøster Musikkompani Orkester, a 22-piece orchestra performing Irish jigs, reels, polkas and hornpipes.
493: St. Patrick died in County Down, Ireland.
1845: Rubber bands were patented by Stephen Perry.
1941: The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., was officially opened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
1948: Benelux, France, and the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Brussels, a precursor to the North Atlantic Treaty that established NATO.
1950: Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, announced the creation of element 98, which they named “californium.”
1968: Over 6,000 sheep were found dead in Skull Valley, Utah, as a result of nerve gas testing.
1985: Serial killer Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. the “Night Stalker,” committed the first two murders in his Los Angeles murder spree.
1995: The first coordinated, town-wide St. Patrick’s Day celebration was held in Libby, Mont. It was the precursor to the annual St. Patrick’s Day Irish Fair & Music Festival that began the following year.
2003: Robert Marvin Shelton, 73, former Grand Wizard of the United Klans of America in Mobile, Ala., died of a heart attack in Tuscaloosa. Mourners at his funeral waved Confederate flags to show their hatred for Catholics, Jews, and non-whites.
1837: Stephen Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th president 1885-1889 and 1893-1897) was born in Caldwell, N.J.
1850: American Express was founded by Henry Wells and William Fargo.
1937: A gas leak at a school in New London, Texas, caused an explosion that killed 300 people, mostly children.
1940: Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met at Brenner Pass in the Alps and agreed to form an alliance against France and the United Kingdom.
1944: The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy killed 26 people and caused thousands to flee their homes.
1959: President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill into law allowing Hawaiian statehood, which would become official on Aug. 21.
1965: Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov left his spacecraft, Voskhod 2, for 12 minutes, to become the first person to “walk” in space.
1990: In the largest art theft in U.S. history, 12 paintings, collectively worth around $300 million, were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Mass.
2010: A rare Sumatran tiger was born in the Sacramento Zoo, California.
1687: Explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle, searching for the mouth of the Mississippi River, was murdered by his own men.
1831: In the first bank robbery in the U.S., $245,000 was stolen from City Bank in New York.
1863: The SS Georgiana, said to have been the most powerful Confederate cruiser, was damaged on her maiden voyage out of Charleston, S.C., by Union Navy ships and scuttled, with a cargo of munitions, medicines and merchandise then valued at over $1,000,000.
1918: The U.S. Congress established time zones and approved daylight saving time.
1931: Gambling was legalized in Nevada.
1943: Fearing he was about to be arrested and sent to prison, Frank Nitti, 57, second in command in Chicago to Al Capone, committed suicide by shooting himself in the head at the Chicago Central Railyard.
1945: Adolf Hitler issued his “Nero Decree” ordering all industries, military installations, shops, transportation facilities and communications facilities in Germany to be destroyed to prevent their use by invading Allies forces. (The decree was deliberately disobeyed by Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect.)
1965: The wreck of the SS Georgiana, valued at over $50,000,000 and said to have been the most powerful Confederate cruiser, was discovered by teenage diver (and later pioneer underwater archaeologist) E. Lee Spence (born 1947), exactly 102 years after it was attacked by the Union Navy and scuttled near Charleston, S.C.
1979: The U.S. House of Representatives began broadcasting its day-to-day business via the cable television network C-SPAN.
1987: Televangelist Jim Bakker resigned as head of the PTL Club due to a sex scandal. He handed over control to Jerry Falwell.
1760: The “Great Fire” of Boston, Mass., destroyed 349 buildings.
1852: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” was published in Boston.
1916: Albert Einstein published his general theory of relativity in Germany.
1933: Giuseppe Zangara was executed in Florida’s electric chair for fatally shooting Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak in Miami during an assassination attempt against President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered the creation of Dachau Concentration Camp as chief of police of Munich and appointed Theodor Eicke as the camp commandant.
1948: The first TV broadcasts of classical music in the United States, under Eugene Ormandy and Arturo Toscanini, were given on CBS and NBC.