1496: Leonardo da Vinci unsuccessfully tested a flying machine.
1957: The Hamilton Watch Co. introduced the first electric wristwatch.
1959: Alaska became the 49th U.S. state.
1962: Pope John XXIII excommunicated Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
1983: Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano began erupting continuously and has not stopped to date.
2000: The last original daily Peanuts comic strip was published.
1903: Topsy the circus elephant was electrocuted by Thomas Edison because the animal had become unpredictable and was considered a threat to humans.
1998: A massive ice storm hit eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. It continued through Jan. 10 and caused widespread destruction.
1999: Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura was sworn in as governor of Minnesota.
1889: The term “Hamburger steak” first appeared in the Walla Walla Union newspaper in Walla Walla, Wash.
1914: The Ford Motor Company announced an eight-hour workday and a minimum wage of $5 for a day’s labor.
1933: John Calvin Coolidge (30th U.S. president, 1923-1929) died in Northampton, Mass, at age 60.
1940: FM radio was demonstrated to the Federal Communications Commission for the first time.
1972: President Richard Nixon ordered the development of the space shuttle program.
1974: The warmest reliably measured temperature in Antarctica, 59 degrees Fahrenheit, was recorded at Vanda Station.
1996: Opera singer Richard Versalle, 63, died onstage while performing Janacek’s The Makropulos Case at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, after delivering the line, “Too bad you can only live so long.”
1853: Benjamin Pierce—the 10-year-old son of President-elect Franklin A. Pierce (14th president, 1853-1857) and his wife Jane—was killed in a train wreck as the family was moving to Washington, D.C. (President-elect Pierce went alone to Washington and was inaugurated on March 3, but the inaugural ball was cancelled and national mourning was observed. President Pierce never recovered from his grief. He was totally ineffectual in office and is considered America’s most obscure president.)
1919: Theodore Roosevelt (26th U.S. president, 1901-1909) died at Oyster Bay, N.Y., at age 60.
1969: Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter (later president, 1976-1980) and 20 other people saw an unidentified flying object that hovered for 10 minutes over Leary, Georgia. Gov. Carter filed a detailed report of the sighting with the National Investigations Committee of Aerial Phenomena.
1800: 13th President Millard Fillmore was born in Cayuga County, New York. (Died 1874.)
1982: Faced with the rising price of copper, the U.S. Mint began issuing pennies made of copper-plated zinc.
1989: Japanese Emporer Hirohito died in Tokyo at age 87.
1782: The first American commercial bank, the Bank of North America, opened in Philadelphia.
1797: The modern flag of Italy was flown for the first time, in Rome.
1927: The first transatlantic telephone service was established, between New York City and London, England.
1948: Kentucky Air National Guard pilot Thomas Mantell crashed while in pursuit of a purported UFO.
1980: U.S. President Jimmy Carter authorized legislation giving $1.5 billion in loans to bail out the Chrysler Corporation.
1790: George Washington delivered the first State of the Union address in New York, New York.
1815: Gen. Andrew Jackson (seventh president, 1829-1837) won the Battle of New Orleans against the British.
1835: The United States national debt was zero for the first and only time.
1889: Herman Hollerith was issued US patent #395,791 for the ‘Art of Applying Statistics,’ his punched card calculator.
1970: Actor George Ostroska dropped dead of a heart attack at the beginning of the second act while playing the lead in Macbeth in St. Paul, Minn. He was 32.
1994: Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov on Soyuz TM-18 left for Mir. He stayed on the space station until March 22, 1995, for a record 437 days in space.
2009: Jonathan Campos, an American sailor charged with murder, killed himself in his jail cell at Camp Pendleton, San Diego, Calif., by stuffing toilet paper into his mouth until he asphyxiated.
2011: The attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and shooting in Casas Adobes, Ariz., at a Safeway grocery store, killed six people and wounded 13 including Giffords. The mentally ill shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was arrested.
1349: The Jewish population of Basel, Switzerland, believed by the residents to be the cause of the ongoing Black Death, was rounded up and incinerated.
1788: Connecticut ratified the U.S. Constitution.
1839: The French Academy of Sciences announced the Daguerreotype photographic process.
1967: Born this day: rock musicians Dave Matthews (Dave Matthews Band), Carl Bell (Fuel) and Steve Harwell (Smash Mouth).
1972: The ocean liner Queen Elizabeth was destroyed by a fire of mysterious origin in Hong Kong harbor. (The listing, burned-out hull appeared in the 1974 James Bond movie Man With the Golden Gun starring Roger Moore. The hull was dismantled and removed shortly after filming was completed.)
2007: “Ugly Betty” actress Ashley Jensen weds actor and writer Terence Beesley in a ceremony in the woods of Big Sur, California.