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This Day in History: December 31


1600 – The British East India Company is chartered.

1775 – American Revolutionary War: Battle of Quebec: British forces repulse an attack by Continental Army General Richard Montgomery.

1796 – The incorporation of Baltimore as a city.

1831 – Gramercy Park is deeded to New York City.

1862 – American Civil War: Abraham Lincoln signs an act that admits West Virginia to the Union, thus dividing Virginia in two.

1862 – American Civil War: The Battle of Stones River begins near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

1879 – Thomas Edison demonstrates incandescent lighting to the public for the first time, in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

1907 – The first New Year's Eve celebration is held in Times Square (then known as Longacre Square) in New York, New York.

1909 – Manhattan Bridge opens.

1944 – World War II: Operation Nordwind, the last major German offensive on the Western Front begins.

1946 – President Harry S. Truman officially proclaims the end of hostilities in World War II.

1951 – The Marshall Plan expires after distributing more than US$13.3 billion in foreign aid to rebuild Europe.

1967 – The Youth International Party, popularly known as the "Yippies", is founded.

1983 – The AT&T Bell System is broken up by the United States Government.

1986 – A fire at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, kills 97 and injures 140.

1988 – Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux becomes the only National Hockey League player to score goals in five different ways: even strength, shorthanded, power play, penalty shot, and empty net, during an 8–6 win over the New Jersey Devils.

1992 – Czechoslovakia is peacefully dissolved in what is dubbed by media as the Velvet Divorce, resulting in the creation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

1999 – The United States Government hands control of the Panama Canal (as well all the adjacent land to the canal known as the Panama Canal Zone) to Panama. This act complied with the signing of the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties.

2010 – Tornadoes touch down in midwestern and southern United States, including Washington County, Arkansas; Greater St. Louis, Sunset Hills, Missouri, Illinois, and Oklahoma, with a few tornadoes in the early hours. A total 36 tornadoes touched down, resulting in the deaths of nine people and $113 million in damages.

2011 – NASA succeeds in putting the first of two Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory satellites in orbit around the Moon.


1491 – Jacques Cartier, French navigator and explorer (d. 1557)

1815 – George Meade, American general and engineer (d. 1872)

1864 – Robert Grant Aitken, American astronomer and academic (d. 1951)

1872 – Fred Marriott, American race car driver (d. 1956)

1880 – George Marshall, American general and politician, 50th United States Secretary of State, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1959)

1946 – Diane von Fürstenberg, Belgian-American fashion designer

1948 – Donna Summer, American singer-songwriter and actress (d. 2012)


1909 – Spencer Trask, American financier and philanthropist (b. 1844)

1910 – Archibald Hoxsey, American pilot (b. 1884)

1985 – Ricky Nelson, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor (b. 1940)

1999 – Elliot Richardson, American lawyer and politician, 69th United States Attorney Genera (b. 1920)

2015 – Natalie Cole, American singer-songwriter and actress (b. 1950)