June 04, 1942: Battle of Midway begins

On this day in 1942, the Battle of Midway–one of the most decisive U.S. victories against Japan during World War II–begins. During the four-day sea-and-air battle, the outnumbered U.S. Pacific Fleet succeeded in destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers while losing only one of its own, the Yorktown, to the previously invincible Japanese navy.

In six months of offensives prior to Midway, the Japanese had triumphed in lands throughout the Pacific, including Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines and numerous island groups. The United States, however, was a growing threat, and Japanese Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto sought to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet before it was large enough to outmatch his own.

A thousand miles northwest of Honolulu, the strategic island of Midway became the focus of his scheme to smash U.S. resistance to Japan’s imperial designs. Yamamoto’s plan consisted of a feint toward Alaska followed by an invasion of Midway by a Japanese strike force. When the U.S. Pacific Fleet arrived at Midway to respond to the invasion, it would be destroyed by the superior Japanese fleet waiting unseen to the west. If successful, the plan would eliminate the U.S. Pacific Fleet and provide a forward outpost from which the Japanese could eliminate any future American threat in the Central Pacific. U.S. intelligence broke the Japanese naval code, however, and the Americans anticipated the surprise attack.

In the meantime, 200 miles to the northeast, two U.S. attack fleets caught the Japanese force entirely by surprise and destroyed three heavy Japanese carriers and one heavy cruiser. The only Japanese carrier that initially escaped destruction, the Hiryu, loosed all its aircraft against the American task force and managed to seriously damage the U.S. carrier Yorktown, forcing its abandonment. At about 5:00 p.m., dive-bombers from the U.S. carrier Enterprise returned the favor, mortally damaging the Hiryu. It was scuttled the next morning.

When the Battle of Midway ended, Japan had lost four carriers, a cruiser and 292 aircraft, and suffered an estimated 2,500 casualties. The U.S. lost the Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 145 aircraft and suffered approximately 300 casualties.

Japan’s losses hobbled its naval might–bringing Japanese and American sea power to approximate parity–and marked the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II. In August 1942, the great U.S. counteroffensive began at Guadalcanal and did not cease until Japan’s surrender three years later.

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June 03, 1989: Crackdown at Tiananmen begins

With protests for democratic reforms entering their seventh week, the Chinese government authorizes its soldiers and tanks to reclaim Beijing’s Tiananmen Square at all costs. By nightfall on June 4, Chinese troops had forcibly cleared the square, killing hundreds and arresting thousands of demonstrators and suspected dissidents.

On April 15, the death of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party head who supported democratic reforms, roused some 100,000 students to gather at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to commemorate the leader and voice their discontent with China’s authoritative government. On April 22, an official memorial service for Hu Yaobang was held in Tiananmen’s Great Hall of the People, and student representatives carried a petition to the steps of the Great Hall, demanding to meet with Premier Li Peng. The Chinese government refused the meeting, leading to a general boycott of Chinese universities across the country and widespread calls for democratic reforms.

Ignoring government warnings of suppression of any mass demonstration, students from more than 40 universities began a march to Tiananmen on April 27. The students were joined by workers, intellectuals, and civil servants, and by mid-May more than a million people filled the square, the site of Mao Zedong’s proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

On May 20, the government formally declared martial law in Beijing, and troops and tanks were called in to disperse the dissidents. However, large numbers of students and citizens blocked the army’s advance, and by May 23 government forces had pulled back to the outskirts of Beijing. On June 3, with negotiations to end the protests stalled and calls for democratic reforms escalating, the troops received orders from the Chinese government to seize control of Tiananmen Square and the streets of Beijing. Hundreds were killed and thousands arrested.

In the weeks after the government crackdown, an unknown number of dissidents were executed, and hard-liners in the government took firm control of the country. The international community was outraged by the incident, and economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries sent China’s economy into decline. By late 1990, however, international trade had resumed, thanks in part to China’s release of several hundred imprisoned dissidents.

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May 03, 1469: Niccolo Machiavelli born

On this day in 1469, the Italian philosopher and writer Niccolo Machiavelli is born. A lifelong patriot and diehard proponent of a unified Italy, Machiavelli became one of the fathers of modern political theory.

Machiavelli entered the political service of his native Florence by the time he was 29. As defense secretary, he distinguished himself by executing policies that strengthened Florence politically. He soon found himself assigned diplomatic missions for his principality, through which he met such luminaries as Louis XII of France, Pope Julius II, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and perhaps most importantly for Machiavelli, a prince of the Papal States named Cesare Borgia. The shrewd and cunning Borgia later inspired the title character in Machiavelli’s famous and influential political treatise The Prince (1532).

Machiavelli’s political life took a downward turn after 1512, when he fell out of favor with the powerful Medici family. He was accused of conspiracy, imprisoned, tortured and temporarily exiled. It was an attempt to regain a political post and the Medici family’s good favor that Machiavelli penned The Prince, which was to become his most well-known work.

Though released in book form posthumously in 1532, The Prince was first published as a pamphlet in 1513. In it, Machiavelli outlined his vision of an ideal leader: an amoral, calculating tyrant for whom the end justifies the means. The Prince not only failed to win the Medici family’s favor, it also alienated him from the Florentine people. Machiavelli was never truly welcomed back into politics, and when the Florentine Republic was reestablished in 1527, Machiavelli was an object of great suspicion. He died later that year, embittered and shut out from the Florentine society to which he had devoted his life.

Though Machiavelli has long been associated with the practice of diabolical expediency in the realm of politics that was made famous in The Prince, his actual views were not so extreme. In fact, in such longer and more detailed writings as Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy (1517) and History of Florence (1525), he shows himself to be a more principled political moralist. Still, even today, the term “Machiavellian” is used to describe an action undertaken for gain without regard for right or wrong.

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April 13, 1997: Tiger Woods wins first major

On this day in 1997, 21-year-old Tiger Woods wins the prestigious Masters Tournament by a record 12 strokes in Augusta, Georgia. It was Woods’ first victory in one of golf’s four major championships–the U.S. Open, the British Open, the PGA Championship, and the Masters–and the greatest performance by a professional golfer in more than a century.

Eldrick “Tiger” Woods was born in a suburb of Los Angeles, California, on December 30, 1975. The only child of an African-American father and a Thai mother, Woods was encouraged from infancy by his father for a career in golf. At the age of two, he teed off against comedian Bob Hope on television’s Mike Douglas Show. At five years old, he was featured on the television show That’s Incredible. At age eight, Tiger won his first junior world championship, and in 1991, at age 15, he became the youngest player ever to win the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. He also captured the 1992 and 1993 Junior Amateur titles, and in 1994 accepted a scholarship to attend Stanford University. That year, he came from six holes behind to win the first of his three consecutive U.S. Amateur championships. He was 18 years old and the youngest Amateur champion in history.

In 1995, Tiger played the Masters, his first professional major championship. The Augusta National Golf Club, which runs the Masters, had not let an African-American join its ranks until 1991. Woods finished 41st in his first Masters appearance. In 1996, he won the collegiate title. By this time, he was already attracting considerable media attention and attracting throngs of new fans to the sport. After claiming his third U.S. Amateur title, Woods left college and turned professional in August 1996. Playing as a pro in eight Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) events in 1996, he won a title and was named the PGA Tour’s outstanding rookie. In December 1996, he was celebrated by the magazine Sports Illustrated as its “Sportsman of the Year.”

In professional play, most of Woods’ opponents were in their late 30s or early 40s. At 6’2″ and 155 pounds, he was slender and athletic, and had developed a devastating swing that routinely allowed him to hit drives of more than 300 yards. He also had a reputation for mental toughness and was a superb putter and chipper. In April 1997, all these attributes came together for the most decisive victory in the Masters’ 44-year history.

His margin of victory–12 strokes–was the largest in the 20th century, and second only to Old Tom Morris’ 13-shot margin at the 1862 British Open. His score of 18-under-par 270 broke Jack Nicklaus’ 32-year-old Masters record of 17-under-par 271. He was the youngest golfer by two years to win the Masters and the first person of Asian or African heritage to win a major. Never before had so many spectators come to Augusta National, and never before had so many people watched it on television.

By June 1997, Tiger was ranked number one in the world. In 1999, he won eight PGA tournaments, earned a record $6 million, and began a winning streak that eventually tied Ben Hogan’s 1948 streak, the second longest in PGA history. In June 2000, he won his first U.S. Open title, shooting a record 12-under-par 272 to finish 15 strokes ahead of his nearest competitors. It was the greatest professional golf performance in history, surpassing even his 1997 Masters’ triumph and Old Tom Morris’ 1862 showing. In July 2000, he captured the British Open, and in August the PGA championship. At the age of 24, he was the youngest player ever to win all four major golf titles and just the second to win three majors in a year. On April 10, 2005, he earned his fourth green sport coat at Augusta National, becoming the first person to win four Masters before age 30.

Tiger’s winning pace slowed around 2004, when he devoted time to reworking his swing and rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee. It was also during this period that he married Elin Nordegren, a Swedish former model who would become the mother of his two children. Tiger was back in top form by 2005, winning his 10th major. His performance fluctuated throughout the rest of the decade as he struggled with a torn ACL and personal problems that garnered substantial media attention: In late 2009, in the wake of events surrounding a car accident outside Tiger’s Florida home, several women came forward claiming to have had affairs with the famous golfer. Nordegren divorced him in August 2010, just as Tiger began his first winless season in his career.

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March 31, 1889: Eiffel Tower opens

On March 31, 1889, the Eiffel Tower is dedicated in Paris in a ceremony presided over by Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s designer, and attended by French Prime Minister Pierre Tirard, a handful of other dignitaries, and 200 construction workers.

In 1889, to honor of the centenary of the French Revolution, the French government planned an international exposition and announced a design competition for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris. Out of more than 100 designs submitted, the Centennial Committee chose Eiffel’s plan of an open-lattice wrought-iron tower that would reach almost 1,000 feet above Paris and be the world’s tallest man-made structure. Eiffel, a noted bridge builder, was a master of metal construction and designed the framework of the Statue of Liberty that had recently been erected in New York Harbor.

Eiffel’s tower was greeted with skepticism from critics who argued that it would be structurally unsound, and indignation from others who thought it would be an eyesore in the heart of Paris. Unperturbed, Eiffel completed his great tower under budget in just two years. Only one worker lost his life during construction, which at the time was a remarkably low casualty number for a project of that magnitude. The light, airy structure was by all accounts a technological wonder and within a few decades came to be regarded as an architectural masterpiece.

The Eiffel Tower is 984 feet tall and consists of an iron framework supported on four masonry piers, from which rise four columns that unite to form a single vertical tower. Platforms, each with an observation deck, are at three levels. Elevators ascend the piers on a curve, and Eiffel contracted the Otis Elevator Company of the United States to design the tower’s famous glass-cage elevators.

The elevators were not completed by March 31, 1889, however, so Gustave Eiffel ascended the tower’s stairs with a few hardy companions and raised an enormous French tricolor on the structure’s flagpole. Fireworks were then set off from the second platform. Eiffel and his party descended, and the architect addressed the guests and about 200 workers. In early May, the Paris International Exposition opened, and the tower served as the entrance gateway to the giant fair.

The Eiffel Tower remained the world’s tallest man-made structure until the completion of the Chrysler Building in New York in 1930. Incredibly, the Eiffel Tower was almost demolished when the International Exposition’s 20-year lease on the land expired in 1909, but its value as an antenna for radio transmission saved it. It remains largely unchanged today and is one of the world’s premier tourist attractions.

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March 27, 1998: FDA approves Viagra

On this day in 1998, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves use of the drug Viagra, an oral medication that treats impotence.

Sildenafil, the chemical name for Viagra, is an artificial compound that was originally synthesized and studied to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and angina pectoris (a form of cardiovascular disease). Chemists at the Pfizer pharmaceutical company found, however, that while the drug had little effect on angina, it could induce penile erections, typically within 30 to 60 minutes. Seeing the economic opportunity in such a biochemical effect, Pfizer decided to market the drug for impotence. Sildenafil was patented in 1996, and a mere two years later–a stunningly short time compared to other drugs–it was approved by the FDA for use in treating “erectile dysfunction,” the new clinical name for impotence. Though unconfirmed, it is believed the drug was invented by Peter Dunn and Albert Wood.

Viagra’s massive success was practically instantaneous. In the first year alone, the $8-$10 pills yielded about a billion dollars in sales. Viagra’s impact on the pharmaceutical and medical industries, as well as on the public consciousness, was also enormous. Though available by prescription only, Viagra was marketed on television, famously touted by ex-presidential candidate Bob Dole, then in his mid-70s. Such direct-to-consumer marketing was practically unprecedented for prescription drugs (now, sales and marketing account for approximately 30 percent of the pharmaceutical industry’s costs, in some cases more than research and development). The drug was also offered over the internet–customers needed only to fill out an “online consultation” to receive samples.

An estimated 30 million men in the United States suffer from erectile dysfunction and a wave of new Viagra competitors, among them Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil), has blown open the market. Drug companies are now not just targeting older men like Dole, but men in their 30s and 40s, too. As with many drugs, the long-term effects of Viagra on men’s health are still unclear (Viagra does carry warnings for those who suffer from heart trouble), but its popularity shows no signs of slowing. To date, over 20 million Americans have tried it, and that number is sure to increase as the baby boomer population continues to age.

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March 21, 1871: Stanley begins search for Livingstone

On this day in 1871, journalist Henry Morton Stanley begins his famous search through Africa for the missing British explorer Dr. David Livingstone.

In the late 19th century, Europeans and Americans were deeply fascinated by the “Dark Continent” of Africa and its many mysteries. Few did more to increase Africa’s fame than Livingstone, one of England’s most intrepid explorers. In August 1865, he set out on a planned two-year expedition to find the source of the Nile River. Livingstone also wanted to help bring about the abolition of the slave trade, which was devastating Africa’s population.

Almost six years after his expedition began, little had been heard from Livingstone. James Gordon Bennett, Jr., editor of the New York Herald, decided to capitalize on the public’s craze for news of their hero. He sent Stanley to lead an expedition into the African wilderness to find Livingstone or bring back proof of his death. At age 28, Stanley had his own fascinating past. As a young orphan in Wales, he crossed the Atlantic on the crew of a merchant ship. He jumped ship in New Orleans and later served in the Civil War as both a Confederate and a Union soldier before beginning a career in journalism.

After setting out from Zanzibar in March 1871, Stanley led his caravan of nearly 2,000 men into the interior of Africa. Nearly eight months passed–during which Stanley contracted dysentery, cerebral malaria and smallpox–before the expedition approached the village of Ujiji, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Sick and poverty-stricken, Livingstone had come to Ujiji that July after living for some time at the mercy of Arab slave traders. When Stanley’s caravan entered the village on October 27, flying the American flag, villagers crowded toward the new arrivals. Spotting a white man with a gray beard in the crowd, Stanley stepped toward him and stretched out his hand: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

These words–and Livingstone’s grateful response–soon became famous across Europe and the United States. Though Stanley urged Livingstone to return with him to London, the explorer vowed to continue his original mission. Livingstone died 18 months later in today’s Zambia; his body was embalmed and returned to Britain, where he was buried in Westminster Abbey. As for Stanley, he returned to Africa to fulfill a promise he had made to Livingstone to find the source of the Nile. He later damaged his reputation by accepting money from King Leopold II of Belgium to help create the Belgian-ruled Congo Free State and promote the slave trade. When he left Africa, Stanley resumed his British citizenship and even served in Parliament, but when he died he was refused burial in Westminster Abbey because of his actions in the Congo Free State.

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March 12, 1933: FDR gives first fireside chat

On this day in 1933, eight days after his inauguration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gives his first national radio address or “fireside chat,” broadcast directly from the White House.

Roosevelt began that first address simply: “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.” He went on to explain his recent decision to close the nation’s banks in order to stop a surge in mass withdrawals by panicked investors worried about possible bank failures. The banks would be reopening the next day, Roosevelt said, and he thanked the public for their “fortitude and good temper” during the “banking holiday.”

At the time, the U.S. was at the lowest point of the Great Depression, with between 25 and 33 percent of the work force unemployed. The nation was worried, and Roosevelt’s address was designed to ease fears and to inspire confidence in his leadership. Roosevelt went on to deliver 30 more of these broadcasts between March 1933 and June 1944. They reached an astonishing number of American households, 90 percent of which owned a radio at the time.

Journalist Robert Trout coined the phrase “fireside chat” to describe Roosevelt’s radio addresses, invoking an image of the president sitting by a fire in a living room, speaking earnestly to the American people about his hopes and dreams for the nation. In fact, Roosevelt took great care to make sure each address was accessible and understandable to ordinary Americans, regardless of their level of education. He used simple vocabulary and relied on folksy anecdotes or analogies to explain the often complex issues facing the country.

Over the course of his historic 12-year presidency, Roosevelt used the chats to build popular support for his groundbreaking New Deal policies, in the face of stiff opposition from big business and other groups. After World War II began, he used them to explain his administration’s wartime policies to the American people. The success of Roosevelt’s chats was evident not only in his three re-elections, but also in the millions of letters that flooded the White House. Farmers, business owners, men, women, rich, poor–most of them expressed the feeling that the president had entered their home and spoken directly to them. In an era when presidents had previously communicated with their citizens almost exclusively through spokespeople and journalists, it was an unprecedented step.

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March 03, 1887: Helen Keller meets her miracle worker

On this day in 1887, Anne Sullivan begins teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months. Under Sullivan’s tutelage, including her pioneering “touch teaching” techniques, the previously uncontrollable Keller flourished, eventually graduating from college and becoming an international lecturer and activist. Sullivan, later dubbed “the miracle worker,” remained Keller’s interpreter and constant companion until the older woman’s death in 1936.

Sullivan, born in Massachusetts in 1866, had firsthand experience with being handicapped: As a child, an infection impaired her vision. She then attended the Perkins Institution for the Blind where she learned the manual alphabet in order to communicate with a classmate who was deaf and blind. Eventually, Sullivan had several operations that improved her weakened eyesight.

Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, to Arthur Keller, a former Confederate army officer and newspaper publisher, and his wife Kate, of Tuscumbia, Alabama. As a baby, a brief illness, possibly scarlet fever, left Helen unable to see, hear or speak. She was considered a bright but spoiled and strong-willed child. Her parents eventually sought the advice of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone and an authority on the deaf. He suggested the Kellers contact the Perkins Institution, which in turn recommended Anne Sullivan as a teacher.

Sullivan, age 20, arrived at Ivy Green, the Keller family estate, in 1887 and began working to socialize her wild, stubborn student and teach her by spelling out words in Keller’s hand. Initially, the finger spelling meant nothing to Keller. However, a breakthrough occurred one day when Sullivan held one of Keller’s hands under water from a pump and spelled out “w-a-t-e-r” in Keller’s palm. Keller went on to learn how to read, write and speak. With Sullivan’s assistance, Keller attended Radcliffe College and graduated with honors in 1904.

Helen Keller became a public speaker and author; her first book, “The Story of My Life” was published in 1902. She was also a fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Blind and an advocate for racial and sexual equality, as well as socialism. From 1920 to 1924, Sullivan and Keller even formed a vaudeville act to educate the public and earn money. Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, at her home in Westport, Connecticut, at age 87, leaving her mark on the world by helping to alter perceptions about the disabled.

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February 28, 1953: Watson and Crick discover chemical structure of DNA

On this day in 1953, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Frances H.C. Crick announce that they have determined the double-helix structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes.

Though DNA–short for deoxyribonucleic acid–was discovered in 1869, its crucial role in determining genetic inheritance wasn’t demonstrated until 1943. In the early 1950s, Watson and Crick were only two of many scientists working on figuring out the structure of DNA. California chemist Linus Pauling suggested an incorrect model at the beginning of 1953, prompting Watson and Crick to try and beat Pauling at his own game. On the morning of February 28, they determined that the structure of DNA was a double-helix polymer, or a spiral of two DNA strands, each containing a long chain of monomer nucleotides, wound around each other. According to their findings, DNA replicated itself by separating into individual strands, each of which became the template for a new double helix. In his best-selling book, The Double Helix (1968), Watson later claimed that Crick announced the discovery by walking into the nearby Eagle Pub and blurting out that “we had found the secret of life.” The truth wasn’t that far off, as Watson and Crick had solved a fundamental mystery of science–how it was possible for genetic instructions to be held inside organisms and passed from generation to generation.

Watson and Crick’s solution was formally announced on April 25, 1953, following its publication in that month’s issue of Nature magazine. The article revolutionized the study of biology and medicine. Among the developments that followed directly from it were pre-natal screening for disease genes; genetically engineered foods; the ability to identify human remains; the rational design of treatments for diseases such as AIDS; and the accurate testing of physical evidence in order to convict or exonerate criminals.

Crick and Watson later had a falling-out over Watson’s book, which Crick felt misrepresented their collaboration and betrayed their friendship. A larger controversy arose over the use Watson and Crick made of research done by another DNA researcher, Rosalind Franklin, whose colleague Maurice Wilkins showed her X-ray photographic work to Watson just before he and Crick made their famous discovery. When Crick and Watson won the Nobel Prize in 1962, they shared it with Wilkins. Franklin, who died in 1958 of ovarian cancer and was thus ineligible for the award, never learned of the role her photos played in the historic scientific breakthrough.

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