1639 - The transit of Venus (its passage across the Sun's disc) was first observed by astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks.
1642 - Abel Tasman discovered Van Diemen's land, named after his captain and later renamed Tasmania.
1859 - Charles Darwin's controversial "Origin of Species” was published. His revolutionary theory of evolution had its critics, notably the church, which feared the book undermined religious belief.
1871 - The National Rifle Association was incorporated.
1874 - Joseph Farwell Glidden of DeKalb, Illinois patented barbed wire.
1903 - D.J. Coleman of New York City patented the automatic self-starter.
1922 - Robert Erskine Childers, Irish author and nationalist, was executed for his support of the republican cause.
1937 - NBC Radio broadcast music from the Raymor Ballroom in Boston, Massachusetts across the United States. Special guests during this broadcast were Glenn Miller and his Orchestra.
1937 - The Andrews Sisters, recorded Decca record number 1562, one of their biggest hits: "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen".
1938 - It was decided that for a national tournament played in Wichita, Kansas in 1939, the National Semipro Baseball Congress would use a yellow baseball.
1939 - Imperial Airways and British Airways merged to form the British Overseas Airways Corporation.
1944 - Strasbourg was re-captured by a French armoured division under Leclerc with help from the United States Seventh Army.
1947 - The Cleveland Indians renewed Lou Boudreau's contract as manager for an additional two years.
1947 - The first United States Postmaster General to be promoted from the within the postal service was named. J.M. Donaldson who became a letter carrier in 1908, got a promotion.
1950 - Frank Loesser's musical comedy, "Guys and Dolls", opened at the 46th Street Theatre in New York City. The show ran for 1,200 performances.
1952 - Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" opened in London.
1958 - Jackie Wilson’s "Lonely Teardrops" was released, as was a Richie Valens' album featuring "Donna" on one side and "La Bamba" on the other.
1958 - Harold Jenkins, who became Conway Twitty, got his first #1 hit with "It’s Only Make Believe", which was the United States' most popular song for one week.
1961 - The Lion Sleeps Tonight became the first African song to hit the Number 1 spot on the American pop chart. The American version, recorded by the Tokens, was a translation of a South African folk song known variously as "Mbube" or "Wimoweh".
1963 - Lee Harvey Oswald, assassin of President Kennedy, was shot dead by Jack Ruby at Dallas Police headquarters.
1964 - For the first time since 1800, residents of the District of Columbia were permitted to vote in a presidential election.
1965 - Sheikh Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah became ruler of Kuwait following the death of his brother.
1967 - Gary Collins, actor and television host, married former Miss America 1959, Mary Ann Mobley.
1969 - United States Army Lieutenant William L. Calley, charged with the massacre of over 100 civilians in the Vietnamese village of My Lai in March 1968, was ordered to stand trial by court martial.
1969 - Apollo 12 returned to Earth after its moon landing.
1970 - The United States’s outstanding collegiate football player of the year was awarded the Heisman Memorial Trophy. The winner was Jim Plunkett, quarterback for the Stanford Cardinal, who later went on to a sterling career in the NFL.
1972 - A Friday night show to compete with NBC’s "Midnight Special" premiered, "In Concert" featuring Chuck Berry, Alice Cooper, Blood Sweat and Tears, Seals and Crofts and Poco. Robert W. Morgan of KHJ, Los Angeles, California was the offstage announcer for ABC-TV's show staged before a live audience. "In Concert" was created by the man who thought up fictitious group, The Archies, and brought fame to The Monkees, rock promoter, Don Kirshner.
1973 - After more than two years of retirement, Frank Sinatra returned with a NBC television special titled, "Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back". Despite finishing third in the ratings, in a three-show race, one critic called the program, "the best popular music special of the year."
1976 - An earthquake struck Turkey's Van Province, killing nearly 5,300 and injuring more than 5,000 others.
1976 - At an appearance at Winterland in San Francisco, California, the group, The Band, aannounced this was to be their last public performance.
1986 - Buffalo Sabres center Gilbert Perreault announced he was hanging up his skates after 17 seasons.
1986 - The American Eagle silver dollar, like its gold counterpart, sold out on its first day of issue. Coin dealers ordered an additional 250,000 coins.
1989 - Elias Hrawi was elected president of Lebanon following the assassination two days earlier of the newly elected Rene Muawad.
1989 - The entire presidium and secretariat of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, including leader Milos Jakes, resigned following mass demonstrations in Prague. Karol Urbanek succeeded as General Secretary.
1991 - Flamboyant British rock star, Freddie Mercury, died in his sleep in England at age 45, just one day after he publicly announced he was suffering from AIDS. The charismatic lead singer of the group Queen, Mercury's death was the result of bronchopneumonia brought on by the AIDS virus. His sudden death stunned the rock world.
1993 - In England, two 11-year-old boys were sentenced to be detained indefinitely after they were found guilty of the murder of two-year-old James Bulger.
1994 - The film comedy "Junior," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, and Emma Thompson, opened in United States theaters. Schwarzenegger and Thompson were later both nominated for Golden Globe acting awards.
1995 - Director, writer, and cinematographer Louis Malle died in Beverly Hills, California, at age 63, from cancer. One of the French Nouvelle Vague ("New Wave") directors of the 1950s and 1960s, he made Pretty Baby in 1978, which introduced newcomer Brooke Shields. Jacques-Yves Cousteau hired him as a camera operator on the "Calypso". Cousteau soon promoted him to be co-director of Le Monde du silence (1956) aka "The Silent World". For that film, they collaboratively won the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Years later, Cousteau called Malle the best underwater cameraman he ever had. Malle had been honored for his films many times, including receiving a British Academy Award and César award for Au revoir les enfants, and a British Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination for directing Atlantic City. Malle was married to actress Candice Bergen.
1995 - Ireland voted in a referendum on whether to end a 70-year-old ban on divorce. It passed 50.28 percent to 49.72 percent.
1996 - Following its United States opening weekend, Star Trek: First Contact brought in $30.7 million at the box office.
1998 - The Spice Girls' "Live at Wembley" video was released by Virgin Music Video, and the following year was certified platinum.