1498: Christopher Columbus became the first European to visit what is now Venezuela.
1774: British scientist Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen gas, corroborating the prior discovery of this element by German-Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele.
1834: The British Empire abolished slavery.
1874: Clouds of locusts blackened skies over the Great Plains, from Dakota Territory to Texas and from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River.
1980: Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was elected president of Iceland and became the world’s first democratically elected female head of state.
1790: The first U.S. Census was conducted.
1870: The world’s first underground tube railway opened in London, England.
1873: San Francisco’s famous cable car system began operating.
1876: Frontiersman “Wild Bill” Hickock was shot to death while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory.
1886: The federal government passed the first laws regulating the manufacture of oleomargarine.
1909: The Lincoln penny was issued by the U.S. Mint to commemorate the 100th year since President Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The coin contained 95 percent copper with other minerals. As of 1982 the coin is copper-plated zinc (97½ percent zinc).
1923: 29th U.S. President Warren Gamaliel Harding died of a heart attack in San Francisco while recovering from ptomaine poisoning contracted in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was 57.
1924: Born this day: author and playwright James Baldwin (Go Tell It on the Mountain, died 1987); pianist/composer/arranger Joe Harnell (Fly Me to the Moon, The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, died 2005); and actor Carroll O’Connor (All in the Family, died 2001).
1932: The positron (antiparticle of the electron) was discovered by Carl D. Anderson at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. Born this day: Lamar Hunt, co-founder of the American Football League (died 2006), and Irish actor Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, My Favorite Year, died 2013).
1937: The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 rendered marijuana and all its by-products illegal in the USA.
1939: Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd wrote a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt, urging him to begin the Manhattan Project to develop a nuclear weapon.
1967: Violinist David Margetts of the UCLA String Quartet placed a violin case containing an $800,000 Stradivarius violin— which he had borrowed from UCLA—atop his car after a rehearsal in Hollywood, and drove off. The case fell off alongside the freeway and was found by a woman passing by, who kept it for 27 years not knowing its value. (The violin was discovered in her estate in 1994 and returned to UCLA.)
1990: Iraq invaded Kuwait, leading to the Persian Gulf War.
1934: Adolf Hitler became the supreme leader of Germany by joining the offices of president and chancellor into Führer.
1958: The nuclear submarine USS Nautilus traveled beneath the Arctic ice cap.
1977: Tandy Corporation announced the TRS-80, one of the world’s first mass-produced personal computers.
1790: A newly passed tariff act created the Revenue Cutter Service (the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard).
1944: A tip from a Dutch informer led the Gestapo to a sealed-off area in an Amsterdam warehouse, where they found and arrested Jewish diarist Anne Frank, her family, and four others.
1964: Civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were found dead in Mississippi after disappearing on June 21. (Their murderers were members of the Ku Klux Klan who displayed Confederate flags on their cars and homes as a symbol of their hatred for blacks, Jews and Catholics.)
1987: As part of President Ronald Reagan’s deregulation of government, the Federal Communications Commission rescinded the Fairness Doctrine that required radio and television stations to present controversial issues “fairly,” paving the way for the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.
1993: A federal judge sentenced Los Angeles Police Department officers Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell to 30 months in prison for violating motorist Rodney King’s civil rights.
1305: William Wallace, who led the Scottish resistance against England, was captured by the English near Glasgow and transported to London. (He was put on trial and executed.)
1583: Sir Humphrey Gilbert established the first English colony in North America, at what is now St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.
1858: Cyrus West Field and others finished laying the first transatlantic telegraph cable after several unsuccessful attempts. (It operated for less than a month.)
1861: In order to help pay for the Civil War, the United States government levied the first income tax, 3 percent of all incomes over US $800. (It was rescinded in 1872.) The U.S. Army abolished flogging.
1884: The cornerstone for the Statue of Liberty was laid on Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island) in New York Harbor.
1926: Harry Houdini performed his greatest feat, spending 91 minutes underwater in a sealed tank before escaping.
1930: Born this day: astronaut Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon, died 2012), and U.S.-born Grand Prix race car driver Richie Ginther (died 1989).
1944: The biggest prison breakout in history occurred during World War II when 545 Japanese POWs attempted to escape outside the town of Cowra, New South Wales, Australia. The Nazis begin a week-long massacre of between 40,000 and 100,000 civilians and prisoners of war in Wola, Poland.
1949: The Mann Gulch fire in Montana killed 13 ‘hot shot’ firefighters.
1962: Sex symbol Marilyn Monroe (real name Norma Jean Baker) was found dead in a bungalow in Hollywood, Calif. Authorities said she committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. Nelson Mandela was jailed in South Africa. (He would not be released until 1990.)
2010: The Copiapó mining accident occurred, trapping 33 Chilean miners approximately 2,300 feet underground. (The were successfully retrieved 69 days later, setting a record for longest underground survival after a cave-in.)
1964: Prometheus, a bristlecone pine and the world’s oldest tree at 4,862 years, was cut down on Wheeler Peak in Nevada by researchers who did not know its record-setting age.
2012: NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars.
1789: The U.S. Department of War was established.
1959: The first photograph of the earth was taken by a camera aboard Explorer 6, launched by the United States. The Lincoln Memorial design on the U.S. penny went into circulation. It replaced the “wheat back” design, and was minted until 2008.
1974: French high-wire artist Philippe Petit gained worldwide fame after he performed an unauthorized high-wire act between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, 1,368 feet in the air.
1978: President Jimmy Carter declared a federal emergency at Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, N.Y., due to toxic waste that had been negligently disposed of.
1987: U.S. long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox became first person to swim from the United States to the Soviet Union, crossing 2.4 miles from Little Diomede Island in Alaska to Big Diomede Island in the Soviet Union.
2007: San Francisco Giants left-fielder Barry Bonds broke baseball icon Hank Aaron’s record by hitting his 756th home run.