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25th May 1961: Kennedy announces plan for manned moon landing

On the 25th May 1961, American President John F. Kennedy made the announcement to a joint session of Congress that he had set his sights on a manned moon landing before the end of the decade. To many people, including some personnel at NASA, Kennedy's address seemed ridiculous. The USA had only sent its first man into space 20 days earlier and, although Alan Shepard's spaceflight aboard Freedom 7 was a huge success, the USSR's Yuri Gagarin had already become the first man in space three...


24th May 1943: Josef Mengele, the Nazi Angel of Death, transferred to Auschwitz

Josef Mengele, the Nazi ‘Angel Of Death’, was transferred to begin work at Auschwitz concentration camp. Menegele had been a member of a right-wing paramilitary group that was absorbed into the Nazi SA in 1934. In 1937 he formally joined the Nazi Party and, the following year, began serving in the SS. By the start of 1943 Mengele had proved himself as both an effective medical officer in the field and a dedicated member of the Race and Resettlement Office. Having developed an interest in the...


23rd May 1915: Italy enters WW1 on the side of the Triple Entente

On the 23rd May 1915, Italy entered the First World War on the side of the Triple Entente and declared war on Austria-Hungary. Italy was actually Austria-Hungary’s ally under the terms of the Triple Alliance, but the Italian government had initially opted for neutrality before being persuaded to join with its theoretical opposition. Under the terms of the Triple Alliance, Italy was well within its rights not to provide military assistance to Germany and Austria-Hungary since the treaty was...


22nd May 1849: Abraham Lincoln issued a patent for his invention to lift boats over obstructions

Abraham Lincoln was issued a patent for his invention to lift boats over shoals and other obstructions in a river. As a teenager the future President had taken a flatboat along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. After moving to Illinois he was employed by Denton Offutt a merchant and owner of a general store, to ferry goods along the Mississippi and its tributaries. During these river trips Lincoln’s boats had run aground on more than one occasion, leading to the exhausting process of freeing...


21st May 1927 & 1932: First male & female solo transatlantic flights

On the 21st May 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to make a solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic when he flew 3,600 miles from New York to Paris. On exactly the same date five years later, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic when she landed in Northern Ireland, having been forced to abandon her intended destination of Paris due to technical difficulties. Lindbergh’s flight in The Spirit of St Louis earned him not only enormous fame but also...


20th May 1882: Establishment of the Triple Alliance

Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy formed the Triple Alliance. Germany and Austria-Hungary had formed the defensive Dual Alliance in 1879 in which both countries agreed to assist each other if they were attacked by Russia and promised benevolent neutrality to the other in case of war with another nation. Two years later Italy, which had North African imperial ambitions, was frustrated by France’s seizure of Tunisia. Wishing to secure a foreign alliance in case of future aggression from...


19th May 1536: Execution of Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London

On the 19th May 1536, Anne Boleyn – Henry VIII’s second wife and mother of the future Elizabeth I – was beheaded in the Tower of London, having been found guilty of adultery, treason, and incest. Although found unanimously guilty by a jury of 27 peers, the evidence against her was questionable. Only one person accused of an affair with Anne admitted his guilt, and this was allegedly extracted under torture. Some historians believe that her involvement in court politics led the influential...


18th May 1830: The world’s first lawnmower licensed for manufacture by Edwin Budding

British inventor Edwin Budding went into partnership with foundry owner John Ferrabee to manufacture the world’s first lawn mower. Edwin Budding grew up near the Gloucestershire town of Stroud, where he often saw teams of labourers using scythes to manually cut the lawns of the landed gentry. The labour-intensive nature of this work would later inspire him to create the ubiquitous machine. Having begun work in an iron foundry as a pattern maker, Budding came across a mechanical napping...


17th May 1902: Ancient Antikythera Mechanism ‘computer’ identified

On the 17th May 1902, an ancient analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism was first identified by Greek archaeologist Valerios Stais. The clockwork computer uses a complex system of bronze gears to calculate astronomical phenomena such as eclipses, and the cycle of forthcoming Olympic Games. Although Stais didn’t discover the mechanism, he was the first to notice inscriptions and a gear wheel embedded in a lump of corroded bronze and wood brought up from an ancient Greek wreck....


16th May 1916: The Sykes-Picot Agreement ratified by Britain and France

The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France, formally known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was ratified. The agreement was designed to deal with the future of the Ottoman Empire, which had been known as ‘the sick man of Europe’ in the preceding years due to its declining power. After the Ottomans joined the First World War on the side of the Central Powers, the Allies began discussing policy towards their territory. Britain and France had already agreed to Russia’s claim to...


15th May 1928: Mickey Mouse’s first cartoon appearance

On 15th May 1928, the first animated cartoon to feature Mickey and Minnie Mouse was shown to a theatre audience. However, the cartoon that was shown that day was not Steamboat Willie, which is the cartoon most people know as Mickey Mouse’s debut. In fact Mickey’s first animated appearance was in a silent short called Plane Crazy, but the cartoon failed to secure a distributor until a soundtrack was added a year later. It was finally released on the 29th March 1929, 11 months after its...


14th May 1955: The establishment of the Warsaw Pact

The USSR and seven other European countries signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance better known as the Warsaw Pact. The Warsaw Pact was established shortly after West Germany was admitted to NATO. The USSR was concerned by the remilitarisation of West Germany, something it had tried to avoid when it proposed a new European Security Treaty that failed to gain support from the Western powers in November 1954. Just five days after West Germany joined NATO...


13th May 1787: The First Fleet departs for Australia

On the 13th May 1787, the eleven ships of the “First Fleet” set sail under Captain Arthur Phillip from Portsmouth, England, to establish a penal colony in Australia. As well as over 1,000 convicts who had been sentenced to transportation, the ships also carried officers, crew, marines and their families. It took 252 days for the six convict ships, three store ships, and two Royal Navy escort ships to complete the journey. The route involved the ships sailing first from Portsmouth to...


12th May 1846: The Donner Party begin their ill-fated journey to California

The Donner Party departed Independence, Missouri on their ill-fated journey to California. The 1840s had seen a dramatic increase in the number of pioneers undertaking the long and dangerous journey to settle in the western United States. The California Trail shared its initial stages with the 2,170-mile (3,490 km) Oregon Trail but, after reading about a short cut in a guidebook by Lansford Hastings, a party led by George Donner and James F. Reed decided to take this route. The group of 20...


11th May 1997: Deep Blue chess computer beats Garry Kasparov

On the 11th May 1997, the IBM computer Deep Blue became the first computer to defeat a reigning world chess champion under tournament conditions when it beat Garry Kasparov 3½-2½ over six matches. Deep Blue began life as a graduate research project at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Developed over 8 years by a team of eight computer scientists, it operated through brute force computing power. Ranked as the 259th most powerful computer in the world, Deep Blue was...


10th May 1857: The start of the Indian Mutiny (First War of Indian Independence)

The Indian Mutiny, also known as the First War of Indian Independence, began in Meerut. By the middle of the 19th century, the British East India Company ruled two thirds of the Indian subcontinent on behalf of the government. The remainder paid tribute to the British, but there was increasing discontent among native rulers about their rapidly declining position. For ordinary Indians there were also concerns about the pace of Westernisation that threatened local traditions and ignored...


9th May 1887: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show opens in London

On the 9th May 1887, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show opened in London at the American Exhibition in West Brompton. This was the first time Buffalo Bill had travelled to Britain, and marked the first time that many Europeans had seen the fabled ‘Cowboys and Indians’. Over 100 performers had travelled from New York aboard the steamship State of Nebraska, including members of a range of indigenous tribes who staged a very scripted and stage-friendly version of life on the Great Plains....


8th May 1942: The Battle of the Coral Sea ends during the War in the Pacific

The Battle of the Coral Sea, the first naval battle in which the participating ships never came in sight of each other, ended. The Coral Sea is situated off the northeast coast of Australia. Following Japan’s entry into the Second World War, the Imperial Japanese Navy sought to establish perimeter defences in the region to protect the Japanese empire and isolate Australia and New Zealand from their ally the United States. Japanese forces launched Operation MO, in which they planned to...


7th May 1794: Robespierre establishes Cult of the Supreme Being

On the 7th May 1794, just a few weeks before the Law of 22nd Prairial that created the Great Terror, Maximilien Robespierre formally announced the creation of the Cult of the Supreme Being in a meeting of the National Convention. The Cult had been devised almost exclusively by Robespierre, and followed a period of dramatic de-Christianisation that had seen the French Church stripped of its authority. The Republic had fought hard to remove the influence of the Church from politics, with...


6th May 1983: The Hitler Diaries proven to be forgeries

West Germany’s Federal Archives revealed that forensic tests proved the Hitler Diaries were forgeries. In the final days of the Second World War, an aeroplane carrying some of Hitler’s closest staff members crashed near the German border with Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s personal valet, Sergeant Wilhelm Arndt, was killed and the personal effects he was carrying on behalf of the Fuhrer were lost. On hearing of the crash, Hitler allegedly exclaimed that, ‘In that plane were all my private...


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