1788: New Jersey ratified the U.S. Constitution.
1915: America’s 28th president, Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), married Edith Galt at her home. He became the third president to marry while in office.
1843: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens first went on sale.
1941: Adolf Hitler became Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the German Army.
1967: Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt was officially presumed dead. He disappeared December 17 while swimming at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, Victoria.
1972: The last manned lunar flight, Apollo 17, crewed by Eugene Cernan, Ron Evans and Harrison Schmitt, returned to Earth.
1984: The Sino-British Joint Declaration, stating that the People’s Republic of China would resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong and the United Kingdom would restore Hong Kong to China with effect from July 1, 1997, was signed in Beijing by Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher.
1995: The U.S. government restored federal recognition to the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indian tribe in southern Michigan.
1998: The U.S. House of Representatives forwarded articles I and III of impeachment against President Bill Clinton to the Senate.
2001: A record high barometric pressure of 1085.6 hPa (32.06 inHg) was recorded at Tosontsengel, Khövsgöl Province, Mongolia.
1892: Alexander Brown and George Stillman of Syracuse, New York, received the first patent on an inflatable automobile tire.
1957: American rock and roll star Elvis Presley received notice that he would be drafted into the U.S. Army.
1989: The United States invaded Panama to overthrow military dictator Manuel Noriega, who had been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges and was accused of suppressing democracy in Panama and endangering U.S. nationals. Noriega’s Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) were quickly crushed, forcing the dictator to seek asylum with the Vatican anuncio in Panama City, where he surrendered on Jan. 3, 1990.
1940: Born this day, Ray Hildebrand, U.S. singer-songwriter (Paul & Paula), and Frank Zappa, U.S. singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer and composer (The Mothers of Invention, died 1993).
1945: General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. 3rd Army, died of injuries received in a vehicle accident in Germany.
1958: President Eisenhower’s press secretary, James Hagerty, issued a press release announcing that a new reverse design for the U.S. penny would begin production on Jan. 2, 1959. The new design, by Frank Gasparro, had been developed by the Treasury in consultation with the Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission. Approved by the president and by Secretary of the Treasury Robert B. Anderson, the new design featured the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The redesign came as a complete surprise, as word of the proposal had not been leaked.
1808: The iconic Fifth Symphony by Ludwig von Beethoven premiered in Vienna, Austria, with Beethoven himself conducting.
1936: Born this day: Author James Burke (The Day The Universe Changed), and Polish filmmaker Voytek Frykowski (murdered by Manson family in 1969).
1937: The Lincoln Tunnel opened to traffic in New York City.
1944: During the Battle of the Bulge, German troops demanded the surrender of U.S. troops at Bastogne, Belgium, prompting the famous one word reply by General Anthony McAuliffe: “Nuts!”
1965: In the United Kingdom, a 70 mph speed limit was applied to all rural roads including motorways for the first time. Previously, there had been no speed limit.
1984: Bernhard Hugo Goetz shot four African-American would-be muggers on an express train in Manhattan, New York City.
1985: D. Boon, (Dennis Dale Boon), singer and guitarist in the punk band The Minutemen, died in a van accident in Arizona on Interstate 10 near the California border, age 27.
1989: Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate re-opened after nearly 30 years, effectively ending the division of East and West Germany.
2012: The repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, the 17-year-old policy banning homosexuals serving openly in the U.S. military, was signed into law by President Barack Obama.
1823: A Visit from St. Nicholas, also known as The Night Before Christmas, was published anonymously in the Troy, New York, Sentinel.
1919: The United Kingdom outlawed sexual discrimination.
1938: The first modern coelacanth was discovered in South Africa. Coelacanths were thought to have been extinct for 100 million years. The coelacanth is considered a “living fossil” due to its apparent lack of significant evolution over millions of years. The coelacanth is thought to have evolved into roughly its current form approximately 400 million years ago.
1970: The North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York City, was topped out at 1,368 feet, making it the tallest building in the world.
1979: Soviet forces invaded and occupied Kabul, capital of Afghanistan.
1986: Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California, becoming the first aircraft to fly non-stop around the world without aerial or ground refueling.
2002: An MQ-1 Predator was shot down by an Iraqi MiG-25, making it the first time in history that an aircraft and an unmanned drone engaged in combat.
1818: “Silent Night” by Franz Xaver Gruber (music) and Father Joseph Mohr (lyrics) was first performed in the church of St. Nikolaus in Oberndorf, Austria.
1828: Rachel Donelson Jackson, wife of President-elect Andrew Jackson, died in Nashville, Tenn.
1865: The Ku Klux Klan was formed by six former Confederate Army officers in Pulaski, Tenn., with the Confederate flag as its official symbol.
1906: Reginald Fessenden transmitted the first radio broadcast; consisting of a poetry reading, a violin solo and a speech.
1951: Libya gained independence from Italy.
1955: NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) tracked Santa Claus for the first time in what has become an annual Christmas Eve tradition.
1968: The crew of Apollo 8 entered into orbit around the Moon, becoming the first humans to do so. They performed 10 lunar orbits and broadcast live TV pictures that became the famous Christmas Eve Broadcast, one of the most watched programs in history.
1974: Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin, Australia.