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This Day in History: January 4


1847 – Samuel Colt sells his first revolver pistol to the United States government.

1853 – After having been kidnapped and sold into slavery in the American South, Solomon Northup regains his freedom; his memoir Twelve Years a Slave later becomes a national bestseller.

1865 – The New York Stock Exchange opens its first permanent headquarters near Wall Street in New York City.

1889 – The Oklahoma Land Run opens two million acres of unused Oklahoma Territory to first serve first come settlers on April 22.

1896 – Utah is admitted as the 45th U.S. state.

1903 – Topsy, an elephant, is electrocuted by the owners of Luna Park, Coney Island. The Edison film company shoots the film Electrocuting an Elephant of Topsy's death.

1944 – World War II: Operation Carpetbagger, involving the dropping of arms and supplies to resistance fighters in Europe, begins.

1951 – Korean War: Chinese and North Korean forces capture Seoul.

1958 – Sputnik 1 falls to Earth from orbit.

1959 – Luna 1 becomes the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Moon.

1965 – United States President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaims his "Great Society" during his State of the Union address.

1974 – United States President Richard Nixon refuses to hand over materials subpoenaed by the Senate Watergate Committee.

1987 – The Maryland train collision: An Amtrak train en route to Boston from Washington, D.C., collides with Conrail engines in Chase, Maryland, killing 16 people.

1989 – Second Gulf of Sidra incident: A pair of Libyan MiG-23 "Floggers" are shot down by a pair of US Navy F-14 Tomcats during an air-to-air confrontation.

1998 – A massive ice storm hits eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, continuing through January 10 and causing widespread destruction.

1999 – Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura is sworn in as governor of Minnesota.

2004 – Spirit, a NASA Mars rover, lands successfully on Mars at 04:35 UTC.

2007 – The 110th United States Congress convenes, electing Nancy Pelosi as the first female Speaker of the House in U.S. history.


1838 – General Tom Thumb, American circus performer (d. 1883)

1890 – Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, American publisher, founded DC Comics (d. 1965)

1895 – Leroy Grumman, American engineer and businessman, co-founded Grumman Aeronautical Engineering Co. (d. 1982)

1896 – Everett Dirksen, American lieutenant and politician (d. 1969)

1900 – James Bond, American ornithologist and zoologist (d. 1989)

1930 – Don Shula, American football player and coach

1933 – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, American author

1935 – Floyd Patterson, American boxer (d. 2006)

1937 – Grace Bumbry, American operatic soprano

1943 – Doris Kearns Goodwin, American historian and author


1821 – Elizabeth Ann Seton, American nun and saint (b. 1774)

1877 – Cornelius Vanderbilt, American businessman and philanthropist (b. 1794)

1965 – T. S. Eliot, American-English poet, playwright, and critic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1888)

1997 – Harry Helmsley, American businessman (b. 1909)

1999 – Iron Eyes Cody, American actor and stuntman (b. 1904)

2001 – Les Brown, American bandleader and composer (b. 1912)

2003 – Sabine Ulibarrí, American poet and critic (b. 1919)

2012 – Richard Alf, American businessman, co-founded San Diego Comic-Con International (b. 1952)