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20th February 1472: Orkney and Shetland Isles given to Scotland as a wedding dowry

The Northern Isles, which consist of the two island groups of Shetland and Orkney, have been inhabited since prehistoric times but were formally annexed by the Norwegian king Harald Hårfagre in around 875 after he subdued the Vikings who used the islands as a base from which to raid Norway and Scotland. The islands remained under Norwegian control for almost 600 years, despite increased Scottish interest from the 13th century onwards. Scottish influence began to grow following the death of...


19th February 1985: BBC broadcasts first episode of EastEnders

On the 19th February 1985, the BBC’s flagship soap opera EastEnders was broadcast for the first time. Now airing four episodes a week, the series has been broadcast continuously ever since and remains one of the most popular television shows in the United Kingdom. EastEnders was created by Julia Smith and Tony Holland, a producer and script editing partnership who had previously worked together on long-running police drama Z-Cars. In March 1983 they were asked to come up with a bi-weekly...


18th February 1885: Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” published in the United States

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, under his pen-name Mark Twain, had previously published the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in which the character of Huckleberry “Huck” Finn is introduced for the first time. Eight years after its release, the sequel was published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and was followed by the American version two months later. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was originally published without the definite article at the start of its title, is set in the...


17th February 1966: The Beach Boys start recording Good Vibrations

On the 17th February 1966 Brian Wilson, the co-founder of the Beach Boys, began the first recording session for the song Good Vibrations at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles. Part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, Good Vibrations arguably established the recording studio itself as an instrument and secured the Beach Boys their first million-selling single. The Beach Boys were recording their eleventh studio album, Pet Sounds, when the...


16th February 1937: Organic chemist Wallace Carothers is awarded a patent for nylon

The DuPont company’s organic chemist Wallace Carothers received a patent for linear condensation polymers, the basis of the material better known as nylon. Carothers joined DuPont from Harvard University, where he had taught organic chemistry. He was initially reluctant to move due to concerns that his history of depression would be a problem in an industrial setting, but DuPont executive Hamilton Bradshaw persuaded him otherwise and he took up his role in February 1928. Having thrown...


15th February 1971: The UK and Ireland decimalise their currency

On the 15th February 1971, the United Kingdom and Ireland abandoned their old currency of pounds, shillings and pence and introduced a decimalised system. Thanks to a long transitional period that had been established prior to decimalisation, Decimal Day itself went relatively smoothly while shops continued to accept ‘old money’ for a few weeks afterwards in order to remove old coins from circulation. Decimalisation wasn’t seriously considered by the British Parliament until the Halsbury...


14th February 1990: Voyager 1 creates the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image of Earth

Pale Blue Dot, the most distant photograph ever taken of Earth, was created by the Voyager 1 space probe. Voyager 1 was launched in September 1977 to study the outer Solar System including flybys of Jupiter and Saturn. Having completed the mission for which it had been created in November 1980, the spacecraft was allowed to continue its flight and leave the Solar System. Carl Sagan, the astronomer and author, was a member of the Voyager imaging team and suggested that Voyager 1 should take...


13th February 1689: William and Mary become co-regents

On the 13th February 1689, William and Mary became co-regents of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland after agreeing to the Declaration of Right. On the 5th November the previous year William, the head of state of the Dutch Republic, landed at Torbay after being invited by a group of English Parliamentarians to invade England. His Dutch fleet and army went on to oust the Catholic King James II, his wife Mary’s father, in the so-called Glorious Revolution. James was allowed to...


12th February 1924: First performance of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”

George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was performed for the first time at a concert by Paul Whiteman and his Palais Royal Orchestra called An Experiment in Modern Music. Whiteman had previously worked with Gershwin when he conducted the original performance of Blue Monday, a one-act ‘jazz opera’ composed by Gershwin with lyrics by Buddy DeSylva. Although it was a Broadway flop, Whiteman was impressed by Blue Monday and had a conversation with Gershwin in which they discussed the idea of...


11th February 1979: Iranian Revolution overthrows the Shah

On the 11th February 1979 Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, was overthrown as a result of the Iranian Revolution. His overthrow saw the end of the 2,500 year old monarchy in Iran and ushered in a theocracy overseen by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Under the Shah, Iran enjoyed immense wealth built on an abundant supply of oil, although the vast majority of the population continued to live in poverty. The Shah, who had come to power in 1941, tried to secure support by using oil...


10th February 1355: St Scholastica’s Day Riot began in Oxford between ‘town and gown’

Tensions between university students and the locals of Oxford had been building for some time before violence broke out. The townspeople were frustrated with the University’s privileges, while students felt that local businesses exploited them by charging higher prices for rents, goods, and services. On 10 February 1355 a group of students were drinking in the central Swindlestock Tavern. When they complained to the landlord about the quality of the drinks he had brought them, he responded...


9th February 1969: First test flight of Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Jet’

On the 9th February 1969, the first test flight of the Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Jet’ took place. The 747 went on to hold the record for the largest passenger capacity for 37 years before being surpassed by the Airbus A380. The 1960s saw an enormous increase in the use of air transportation. However, existing planes such as the Boeing 707 were relatively small. The first person to approach Boeing with the idea of developing a larger passenger aircraft was Juan Trippe, president of Pan Am, but the...


8th February 1904: Russo-Japanese War triggered by Japanese torpedo attack on Port Arthur

Port Arthur was a fortified naval base in the south of Manchuria that had been leased to Russia since 1898. After crushing the Boxer Rebellion as part of an eight-nation coalition, Russia infuriated Japan, which claimed parts of Manchuria within its own sphere of influence, by refusing to remove its troops. Japan was willing to recognise Russian dominance in Manchuria in return for access to Korea, but an agreement could not be reached and Japan broke off diplomatic relations on 6 February...


7th February 1964: The Beatles’ first visit to the USA

On the 7th February 1964, the Beatles visited the United States for the first time. Their welcome at New York’s Kennedy Airport by 3,000 screaming fans was unprecedented, even for a band that had already become accustomed to hordes of followers at home in Britain and in Europe. Within two days, their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show had put them in front of around 40% of the entire population of the country – an estimated 73 million people. 1963 had seen the release of the Beatles’ first...


HistoryPod Extra: Centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918

On 6 February 1918 the Representation of the People Act received Royal Assent, marking the start of female suffrage in Great Britain. The bill had been passed in the House of Commons by 385 votes to 55 and gave women over the age of 30 who owned property the right to vote. While it therefore denied the vote to a large number of women, it was still a watershed moment in the history of gender equality in the UK. A traditional explanation for parliament supporting the bill is that it acted as...


6th February 1778: France and the US sign the first treaties that recognise American independence

France and the United States signed the first two treaties ever negotiated by the American government, and which formally recognised the independence of the United States. Keen to exact revenge on Britain for the Seven Years’ War, France had begun to send secret military aid to the American Continental Army even before the Continental Congress declared independence. With French finance and equipment coming in through the fictitious Roderigue Hortalez and Company, founding Father John Adams...


5th February 1924: The BBC ‘pips’ first broadcast to mark the time

On the 5th February 1924 the BBC ‘pips’ were broadcast for the first time. Five short pips signal the five seconds leading up to the hour, with a slightly longer pip marking the start of the new hour. Although now largely inaccurate as a result of the inherent delay in the encoding, transmission, and decoding of digital radio broadcasts, the pips are still a part of many BBC radio programmes. The BBC successfully broadcast the chimes of Big Ben for the first time at New Year 1924. This led...


4th February 1555: John Rogers became the first Protestant martyr under ‘Bloody’ Mary I of England

John Rogers became the first English Protestant martyr under Mary I after he was burnt at the stake. John Rogers was educated at Cambridge, after which he became a Catholic priest. As the Reformation began to take hold, Rogers questioned his vocation and subsequently resigned his ministry. He moved to Antwerp in 1534 where he met William Tyndale who had published his English translation of the New Testament a few years earlier. Tyndale was instrumental in converting Rogers to...


3rd February 1959: The Day the Music Died

The 3rd February 1959 was the Day The Music Died, when rock and roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. The disaster gained its name twelve years later as a result of Don McLean’s hit song American Pie. On the 23rd January 1959, Buddy Holly began the headline Winter Dance Party Tour of 24 cities in the American Midwest with support from Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and Dion and the Belmonts. Touring was a very...


2nd February 1925: Great Race of Mercy delivers diptheria antitoxin to Nome by dogsled relay

A potential diphtheria epidemic in Alaska was avoided after a dogsled relay transported vials of antitoxin 674 miles in five and a half days in “Great Race of Mercy”. The town of Nome lies just 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle and, at the time of the diphtheria outbreak, approximately 10,000 people lived in and around the town. The town’s sole doctor, Curtis Welch, had ordered diphtheria antitoxin to replace the expired stocks in the hospital, but the shipment did not make it to Nome...


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