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This Day in History: August 31


1803 – Lewis and Clark start their expedition to the west by leaving Pittsburgh at 11 in the morning.

1864 – During the American Civil War, Union forces led by General William T. Sherman launch an assault on Atlanta.

1886 – The 7.0 Mw Charleston earthquake affects southeastern South Carolina with a maximum Mercalli intensity of X (Extreme). Sixty people were killed and damage is estimated at $5–6 million.

1897 – Thomas Edison patents the Kinetoscope, the first movie projector.

1935 – In an attempt to stay out of the growing turmoil in Europe, the United States passes the first of its Neutrality Acts.

1939 – Nazi Germany mounts a staged attack on the Gleiwitz radio station, creating an excuse to attack Poland the following day thus starting World War II in Europe.

1940 – Pennsylvania Central Airlines Trip 19 crashes near Lovettsville, Virginia. The CAB investigation of the accident is the first investigation to be conducted under the Bureau of Air Commerce act of 1938.

1943 – USS Harmon, the first U.S. Navy ship to be named after a black person, is commissioned.


1842 – Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, American journalist, publisher, and activist (d. 1924)

1913 – Helen Levitt, American photographer and cinematographer (d. 2009)

1916 – Daniel Schorr, American journalist and author (d. 2010)

1918 – Alan Jay Lerner, American songwriter and composer (d. 1986)

1930 – Big Tiny Little, American pianist (d. 2010)

1935 – Eldridge Cleaver, American activist and author (d. 1998)

1955 – Edwin Moses, American hurdler

1970 – Amy Stein, American photographer and educator


1969 – Rocky Marciano, American boxer and actor (b. 1923)

1973 – John Ford, American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter (b. 1894)

1986 – Elizabeth Coatsworth, American author and poet (b. 1893)

2002 – Lionel Hampton, American pianist, composer, bandleader, and actor (b. 1908)