1488 – Bartolomeu Dias of Portugal lands in Mossel Bay after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, becoming the first known European to travel so far south.
1690 – The colony of Massachusetts issues the first paper money in the Americas.
1781 – American Revolutionary War: British forces seize the Dutch-owned Caribbean island Sint Eustatius.
1783 – American Revolutionary War: Spain recognizes United States independence.
1787 – Militia led by General Benjamin Lincoln crush the remnants of Shays' Rebellion in Petersham, Massachusetts.
1809 – The Territory of Illinois is created by the 10th United States Congress.
1870 – The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, guaranteeing voting rights to citizens regardless of race.
1900 – Governor of Kentucky William Goebel dies of wound sustained in an assassination attempt three days earlier in Frankfort, Kentucky.
1913 – The Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, authorizing the Federal government to impose and collect an income tax.
1917 – World War I: The United States breaks off diplomatic relations with Germany a day after the latter announced a new policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.
1918 – The Twin Peaks Tunnel in San Francisco, California begins service as the longest streetcar tunnel in the world at 11,920 feet (3,633 meters) long.
1933 – Adolf Hitler announces that the expansion of Lebensraum into Eastern Europe, and its ruthless Germanisation, are the ultimate geopolitical objectives of Third Reich foreign policy.
1944 – World War II: During the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign, U.S. Army and Marine forces seize Kwajalein Atoll from the defending Japanese garrison.
1945 – World War II: As part of Operation Thunderclap, 1,000 B-17s of the Eighth Air Force bomb Berlin, a raid which kills between 2,500 and 3,000 and dehouses another 120,000.
1945 – World War II: The United States and the Philippine Commonwealth begin a month-long battle to retake Manila from Japan.
1947 – The lowest temperature in North America, −63.9 °C (−83.0 °F), is recorded in Snag, Yukon.
1959 – Deaths of rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.
1961 – The United States Air Forces begins Operation Looking Glass, and over the next 30 years, a "Doomsday Plane" is always in the air, with the capability of taking direct control of the United States' bombers and missiles in the event of the destruction of the SAC's command post.
1971 – New York Police Officer Frank Serpico is shot during a drug bust in Brooklyn and survives to later testify against police corruption. Many believe the incident proves that NYPD officers tried to kill him.
1984 – John Buster and the research team at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center announce history's first embryo transfer, from one woman to another resulting in a live birth.
1984 – Space Shuttle program: STS-41-B is launched using Space Shuttle Challenger.
1995 – Astronaut Eileen Collins becomes the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle as mission STS-63 gets underway from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
1998 – Karla Faye Tucker is executed in Texas, becoming the first woman executed in the United States since 1984.
2008 – The New York Giants end the New England Patriots undefeated season in one of the greatest upsets in sports history by winning Super Bowl XLII 17-14.
1807 – Joseph E. Johnston, American general and politician (d. 1891)
1811 – Horace Greeley, American journalist and politician (d. 1872)
1821 – Elizabeth Blackwell, American physician and educator (d. 1910)
1842 – Sidney Lanier, American composer and poet (d. 1881)
1874 – Gertrude Stein, American author, poet, and playwright (d. 1946)
1894 – Norman Rockwell, American painter and illustrator (d. 1978)
1904 – Pretty Boy Floyd, American gangster (d. 1934)
1907 – James A. Michener, American author and philanthropist (d. 1997)
1920 – Henry Heimlich, American physician and author
1940 – Fran Tarkenton, American football player and sportscaster
1874 – Lunalilo of Hawaii (b. 1835)
1889 – Belle Starr, American criminal (b. 1848)
1924 – Woodrow Wilson, American historian, academic, and politician, 28th President of the United States, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1856)
1959 – The Day the Music Died
The Big Bopper, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1930)
Buddy Holly, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1936)
Ritchie Valens, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1941)
1975 – William D. Coolidge, American physicist and engineer (b. 1873)
1985 – Frank Oppenheimer, American physicist and academic (b. 1912)
2014 – Joan Mondale, American wife of Walter Mondale, 32nd Second Lady of the United States (b. 1930)
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