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History: February 17

February 17

1454 At a grand feast, Philip the Good of Burgundy takes the 'vow of the pheasant,' by which he swears to fight the Turks. (Bradley)

1568 The Holy Roman Emperor agrees to pay annual tribute to the Sultan for peace. (Bradley)


1598 Boris Godunov, the boyar of Tarar origin, is chosen as tzar of Russia in succession to his brother-in-law Fydor.


1621 Miles Standish is appointed the first commander of the Plymouth colony. "...Standish, among the more well known of the Mayflower passengers -- perhaps due to Longfellow's fictitious poem "The Courtship of Miles Standish -- was by some accounts of short stature and of feisty temperament. Nonetheless, he served the fledgling colony with great fidelity and was consistently called upon for service. He was called by Thomas Morton, the man who Standish arrested, "Captain Shrimp." In a combative encounter with the natives, Wittuwamet, Peksuot and others over a plot to eliminate the Weston colony, Winslow recounts that prior to the death fight, Pecksuot earlier had told Standish: "though he were a great captain, yet he was but a little man; and said he, though I be no sachem, yet I am a man of great strength and courage." Both Wittuwamet and Peksuot were killed in hand-to-hand combat by Standish and his men..."

1634 William Prynne is tried in the Star Chamber for publishing Histriomastix.

1676 Kings Charles II and Louis XIV, of Britain and France, sign a secret treaty against Spanish interests. Note: At this time, Spain is the worlds lone superpower.


1699 Birth: Hans Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, German architect; Sanssouci.

1720 Spain signs the Treaty of the Hague with the Quadruple Alliance ending a war that was begun in 1718.


1723 Birh: Tobias Mayer, "...a self taught mathematician who worked as a cartographer in Nurernberg. He discovered the libration of the Moon and this gained him fame which led to his appointment as professor of economics and mathematics at Goumttingen in 1751. Mayer began calculating lunar and solar tables in 1753 and in 1755 he sent them to the British government. These tables were good enough to determine longitude at sea with an accuracy of half a degree. Mayer's method of determining longitude by lunar distances and a formula for correcting errors in longitude due to atmospheric refraction were published in 1770 after his death. In a preface written to his tables written in 1760 Mayer says "I am the more unwilling my tables should lie any longer concealed; especially as the most celebrated astronomers of almost every age have ardently wished for a perfect theory of the Moon ... on account of its singular use in navigation. I have constructed theses tables ... with respect to the inequalities of motions, from that famous theory of the great Newton, which that eminent mathematician Eulerus first elegantly reduced to general analytic equations." In the first issue of the Nautical Almanac there was a description by Maskelyne of Mayer's tables: "The Tables of the Moon had been brought by the late Professor Mayer...to a sufficient exactness to determine the Longitude at Sea to within a Degree, as appeared by the Trials of several Persons who made use of them. The Difficulty and Length of the necessary Calculations seemed the only Obstacles to hinder them from becoming of general Use. The Board of Longitude sent Mayer's widow 3000 Pounds as an award for the tables.".


1740 Birth: Horace B. de Saussure, Swiss physicist and geologist; professor at the University of Geneva from 1762 to 1786, will be famous for his studies of the geology, meteorology, and botany of the mountainous regions of Europe, particularly the Alps. These will be described in his great work, Voyages dans les Alpes.

1758 Birth: John Pinkerton, Scottish historian.


1774 Birth: Raphaelle Peale, outstanding US painter. Above: Disinterment of the Mastodon, 1806-1808. See also top picture, The Artist in his Museum, 1822.

1781 Birth: René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec, in France, inventor of stethoscope.


1801 Thomas Jefferson becomes the third president of the United States. "...Jefferson's triumph was delayed temporarily as a result of a tie in electoral ballots with his running mate, Aaron Burr, which shifted the election to the House of Representatives. There Hamilton's influence helped Jefferson to prevail, although most Federalists supported Burr as the lesser evil. In his inaugural speech Jefferson held out an olive branch to his political enemies, inviting them to bury the partisanship of the past decade, to unite now as Americans. Federalist leaders remained adamantly opposed to Jefferson, but the people approved his policies. Internal taxes were reduced; the military budget was cut; the Alien and Sedition Acts were permitted to lapse; and plans were made to extinguish the public debt. Simplicity and frugality became the hallmarks of Jefferson's administration. The Louisiana Purchase (1803) capped his achievements. Ironically, Jefferson had to overcome constitutional scruples in order to take over the vast new territory without authorization by constitutional amendment. In this instance it was his Federalist critics who became the constitutional purists. Nonetheless, the purchase was received with popular enthusiasm..."

1815 Terrett v. Taylor: The US Supreme Court declares unconstitutional an act of the Virginia Legislature which denies property rights to Protestant Episcopal churches in the state. The Court rules that religious corporations, like other corporations, have rights to their property. (Bradley)

1817 Baltimore becomes the first US city with gas-burning street lights.


1849 Birth: Selwyn Image, in Bodiam, Sussex, painter.


1854 Birth: Friedrich A. Krupp, German arms manufacturer. "...Friedrich was from the beginning expected to follow his father in the steel and arms business. Although Fritz showed a real flair for marine biology and pursued the subject on his own throughout his life, his father forced the boy through a regimen of business education designed to mold the son into the father's likeness. Fritz's keen mind and natural creativity helped him mask his distaste for the grueling world of big business. In fact, his personal charm and tact frequently helped him resolve problems that confounded his father. Because of poor health, he frequently traveled to Mediterranean locales. Out of the sight of his father and wife (he had been forced to marry as well), he could indulge his love of oceanography. He also discovered that the young men of the Mediterranean held even more allure for him. In 1898, Krupp took up a semi-permanent residence on Capri where he could pursue both science and young men. Although the locals probably knew the nature of his interests in their men, most people managed to overlook the irregularities since Krupp spent so generously in the local community. In 1900, the Capri city council made him an honorary citizen. Business demands would not allow him to remain in Capri full time, yet he did not want to forgo his young male companions. Krupp sent several Italian men to the Hotel Bristol in Berlin, where he arranged for them to have nominal jobs with the understanding that when he stayed there, the men's duties revolved exclusively around him. The men proved to be unsuitable as hotel staff. Worse, when Krupp stayed there, other guests complained about the noises coming from his suite. Early in 1902, Italian newspapers threatened to expose him as a homosexual if he returned to Capri. Krupp seemed oblivious to the gathering peril. He apparently did not know the papers had photos they were prepared to publish if necessary. Nor did he realize the Berlin Chief of Police possessed an extensive dossier of his indiscretions, many of which violated the law against sodomy. Gradually, lurid stories of orgies on Capri found their way from the Italian press to the German papers. Krupp's wife was confined to a mental asylum, possibly to ensure her discretion. In little less than a month, the stories evolved from mere insinuations into outright accusations, culminating in an article titled, "Krupp in Capri." Krupp sued for libel and requested an audience with his friend, Kaiser Wilhelm. On the day he was to meet the emperor, November 22, 1902, Krupp was found dead in his home. The circumstances of his death remain secret. His wife, evidently restored to sanity by her husband's sudden death or suicide, returned to normal activity, and the Krupp firm passed to their..."


1856 Death: Heinrich Heine. "Born of Jewish parents on 13 Dec 1797 in Düsseldorf. In an age when writing was neither considered nor paid as a serious profession, he was aided for many years, sometimes grudgingly, by a wealthy uncle. Not very religious, he converted to Christianity in 1825, to get around anti-Jewish professional restrictions. Disappointed in Germany's failure to adopt liberal policies after the fall of Napoleon (1815), he moved to France in 1831, after France's mildly reformist 1830 revolution. In 1835, all of his writings were banned in Germany. "His political writings show him a radical and a cosmopolitan. ... He was an acute critic of philosophy. But he was most famous as a lyrical poet, pre-eminent in wit and raillery, and the Romantic movement in Germany was in part checked by his irony." Of Heine's many songs and images, modern readers might be most familiar with the "Lorelei," the golden-haired siren on the banks of the Rhine, whose dazzling looks and even more dazzling voice would lure boatmen to their doom. Heine died 17 Feb 1856, and was buried at the Montmartre cemetery in Paris. 85 years later in 1941, when France was under Nazi occupation, Hitler ordered the German army to obliterate Heine's grave. No trace of it remains..."


1864 US Civil War: The CSS Hunley, the worlds first successful submarine, sinks the USS Housatonic (above) in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. "...Two of the biggest problems with the Hunley was it's short range and the inability for the Captain to see where he was steering. Although there was a compass, it proved quite unreliable inside the iron boiler used in the subs construction. This meant that the Hunley would travel a ways, and then have to surface, open a hatch, look around, pick a direction and then submerge again. The ships of the Union blockade generally eliminated the Hunley's threat by staying out of range. 


On February 17, 1864, though, they got a little cocky. The Union gunship, USS Housatonic anchored well inside the inlet at Charleston. At 9:00 PM the Hunley left Sullivan's island, and headed toward the Housatonic. The crew of nine was commanded by Lt. George E. Dixon, a Confederate cavalryman who had been wounded at Shilo. Because of his background as a engineer Dixon was attached to the Hunley project during his recovery. Because of the primitive ballast system on the Hunley, it was not able to submerge much below the surface, and so left a wake. An alert lookout on the Housatonic saw it's approach and warned the Captain. The Captain ordered the ship moved, but multiple anchors complicated that order. Soldiers on board shot rounds of musket bullets at the Hunley, but they just bounced off the sides. The "harpoon torpedo" plunged into the side of the Housatonic below the waterline. The Hunley then reversed itself, backing away from the ship, leaving it's 135 lb explosive charge inside. A rope unraveled as the sub backed off, then tightened and pulled a mechanism that exploded the charge.  Although it took only three minutes for the Housatonic to burn and sink, just five lives were lost. The Hunley surfaced and the hatch was opened. A prearranged signal was given to mark the success of the mission, but the submarine never returned to port..."

1867 The first ship to pass through the newly opened Suez Canal does so on this day.

1870 Birth: Louis de Raet, Belgian economist, founder of Flemish People's Party.


1888 Birth: Otto Stern, German-US physicist; Stern-Gerlach-experiment, Nobel 1943. "Otto Stern was born in Sorau, Upper Silesia, Germany, on February 17, 1888. In 1892 he moved with his parents to Breslau, where he attended high school. He began to study physical chemistry in 1906, receiving his Ph.D. degree from the University of Breslau in 1912. In the same year he joined Einstein at the University of Prague and later followed him to the University of Zurich, where he became Privatdocent of Physical Chemistry at the Eidgenssische Technische Hochschule in 1913. In 1914 he went to the University of Frankfurt am Main as Privatdocent of Theoretical Physics, remaining there until 1921, except for a period of military service. From 1921 to 1922 he was Associate Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Rostock, becoming, in 1923, Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of the laboratory at the University of Hamburg, where he remained until 1933. In that year he moved to the United States, being appointed Research Professor of Physics at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh where he remained until 1945, then becoming professor emeritus. His earliest work was in the field of theoretical physics, especially that of statistical thermodynamics and quantum theory, on which he has published important papers. After 1919, his attention was directed more to experimental physics. His development and application of the molecular beam method proved to be a powerful tool for investigating the properties of molecules, atoms and atomic nuclei. One of the early applications of this was the experimental verification of Maxwell's law of velocity distribution in gases. He collaborated with Gerlach to work on the deflection of atoms by the action of magnetic fields on their magnetic moment, then went on to measure the magnetic moments of sub-atomic particles, including the proton. His work on the production of interference by rays of hydrogen and helium was a striking demonstration of the wave nature of atoms and molecules."

1888 Birth: Ronald Aburthnott Knox, English priest, writer; Viaduct Murder.

1889 Billy Sunday, age 27, baseball player-turned-preacher, makes his first appearance as an evangelist in Chicago. A strong fundamentalist, Sunday preaches temperance and opposes scientific evolution. Over 100 million are will have heard Sunday preach before his death in 1935. (Bradley)


1900 Young Adolf Hitler (top row, far right) enters Realschule in Linz, but continues to do poorly.

1909 Death: The great Apache leader Geronimo, of pneumonia at the age of 80, while still in captivity at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. His real name was Goyathlay.

1923 The inner chamber of the tomb of Tutankhamun is opened at Luxor by the team led by Lord Carnarvon.

1924 Birth: Margaret Truman Daniel, author, daughter of President Harry S. Truman.

1929 Birth: Chaim Potok, novelist; The Chosen, The Promise.

1933 The League of Nations censures Japan in a worldwide broadcast.


1933 Le Temps: "Hitler expressed surprise that he was accused of destroying liberty. He had only imitated them (his enemies) and made a law for the defense of the National State based on the model of the law for the defense of the Republic."

1934 Holocaust: More than 5,000 Austrian Jews lose their jobs because of Dollfuss' anti-Semitic policies.

1935 A workers congress organized by the Polish Socialist Party and the Polish Communist Party, attended by numerous Jews, meets in Warsaw.

1935 "Shortly after 2 P.M. on Sunday, February 17, 1935, thirty-two prisoners at the State Reformatory at Granite were able to arm themselves, take a group of women and children touring the prison hostage and attempted to escape. As the prisoners and their hostages approached the front gate tower where Officer Jones, 65, was on duty, one of the prisoners, Bennett Pat Casey, 22, a five-time convicted burglar, fatally shot Jones with a shotgun. Jones’s wife was standing on the front porch of the officer’s barracks a short distance away and saw her husband shot down."

1936 In Paraguay, the army rebels against President Eusebio Ayala, resulting in the creation of South America’s first fascist regime.

1940 WW2: General Manstein outlines a new plan to Hitler for a rapid armored attack through the Ardennes Forest.


1941 Holocaust: Father Maximillian Kolbe is arrested by the Germans for writing against Nazism and helping Jewish refugees. Kolbe will give his life in exchange for another prisoner in Auschwitz.


1942 Holocaust: German Jews are no longer allowed to subscribe to newspapers and magazines. (Persecution)


1943 WW2: Hitler flies to Manstein's headquarters at Zaporozhye on the Eastern Front. He stays there until February 19 when he agrees to Manstein's plan for a counterattack.

1944 Diary of Leon Gladun: Seasickness overcame everybody. They're lying around or sitting with pale faces and blank stares--our appetites are done for. I somehow hung on pretty good but finally I gave up my food twice in the usual manner. Later I felt better. But others were constantly on their knees and ate little.


1944 WW2: An air armada from US carriers attack on the Japanese naval base of Truk in the Caroline Islands. About 250 enemy planes and 200,000 tons of Japanese merchant shipping are destroyed, and Truk itself is rendered useless.

1944 WW2: US forces land on Eniwetok atoll in the South Pacific.

1955 The publication of a defense paper confirms that Britain is manufacturing hydrogen bombs as part of an Anglo-US deal which gives British scientists access to US technology.

1959 The United States launches its first weather satellite, Vanguard II.

1960 Martin Luther King Jr. is arrested during the Alabama bus boycott.


1963 Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visits the Berlin Wall. "...While America's seemingly contradictory approach––stockpiling weapons while Eisenhower was warning about the military-industrial complex––was taking place in the late 1950s, the Soviets had serious issues of their own to deal with, primarily in Germany and China. Beginning in 1958 and lasting into the early years of the Kennedy presidency, the USSR again brought the issue of East Germany [the GDR] to the forefront of world politics, eventually leading to the creation of a wall to separate East from West Berlin. By 1958, the west had still refused to recognize the GDR as an independent country, so the Soviets continued to underwrite the East German government while trying to contain West Germany [the FRG]. Khrushchev, however, was reluctant to continue that relationship, both because it was costly to support the GDR, whose economy was in distress, and because he feared that the FRG would acquire its own nuclear weapons arsenal, separate from NATO. Moreover, Konrad Adenauer, the West German president, was publicly appealing for a reunification of the two Germanys, which would be a huge blow to the Soviets, both in terms of prestige and security. By late 1958, the USSR feared that the FRG might take some drastic actions against the East, either politically, economically, or militarily. Thus Khrushchev felt he had to take action, and in a series of speeches in November 1958 he presented the west with a hard dilemma, calling on the western states with occupation rights––the United States, Britain, and France––to sign the German peace treaty, or else the USSR would reach a separate treaty with the GDR granting it independence, and giving it full control over all of Berlin, and he set a six month timetable for such actions. Khrushchev was serious about the German issue, also cautious..."

1969 Russia and Peru sign their first trade accord.

1972 Volkswagen breaks the record held by the Model T Ford by selling the 15,007,034th model of its classic Beetle.

1973 President Richard Nixon names Patrick Gray director of the FBI.

1979 China begins a 'pedagogical' war against Vietnam, in response to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.

1986 Johnson and Johnson halts production of all nonprescription drugs in capsules following the death of a Peekskill, New York, woman from cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Tylenol.

1991 Desert Storm: Iraq's foreign minister heads to Moscow to discuss a diplomatic end to the Persian Gulf War.

1993 In an address to a joint session of Congress, President Clinton calls on Americans to 'summon the courage to seize the day' and implores America to adopt deep government cuts and tax hikes to renew the troubled economy. (Bradley)

1994 A former US Treasurer, Catalina Vasques Villalpando, pleads guilty to obstructing the investigation of influence peddling at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1980s. (Bradley)

1998 President Clinton's lawyers ask a Little Rock, Arkansas, judge to dismiss Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against the president; a request that will later be granted.

1999 Israeli guards kill four Kurdish protesters when they storm the Israeli consulate in Berlin. The Kurds suspect that Israel had helped Turkey capture Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan two days earlier in Kenya.

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