60 YEARS AGO
After more than 60 years as a British colony, Burma gains independence January 4, 1948, a year after negotiations by nationalist leader Aung San. The new republic is stirred by insurgent communist groups and ethnic minorities, and a 1962 coup ushers in a repressive socialist state, which is itself taken over by a military junta in 1988. Despite protests by Aung San's daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, and elections in 1990, Burma, now calling itself Myanmar, remains under the rule of the junta—whose crackdown on monk-led protests in September 2007 ended in at least nine deaths.
190 YEARS AGO
Eight years after beginning his narrative poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Lord Byron sends the fourth and final canto to his publisher in January 1818. "It has been to me a source of pleasure in the production," he writes, and indeed the travelogue of the search for new experiences by a smart, disaffected young man—the original "Byronic hero"— parallels Byron's own travels in Europe. The poem brings Byron fame; his romantic exploits, notoriety. The poet dies in Greece in 1824, at 36.
230 YEARS AGO
While seeking a Pacific entry to the Northwest Passage in January 1778, British explorer Capt. James Cook finds something else: Hawaii. He and his crew are the first Europeans to set foot on the islands—which he dubs Sandwich after the fourth earl. Cook returns the next winter but is killed by islanders in a fight. In 2006, Hawaii, a state since 1959, hosts 104,000 visiting Europeans—and five million Americans.
220 YEARS AGO
Eleven ships, six of them convict transports, land in Port Jackson (Sydney) to found the first British penal colony in Australia in January 1788. Governor Arthur Phillip sets the rules for the new settlers: no food without work. But poor soil makes for hard labor and scarce food. The arrival of a second fleet in 1790 ensures survival, and by 1850, 162,000 convicts have come to the island continent. January 26 is Australia Day, a national holiday, viewed with mixed feelings by Australia's indigenous people.
160 YEARS AGO
"GOLD, BOYS, GOLD!"
Contractor James Marshall finds gold flakes (an original in the National Museum of American History) in the tailrace of a sawmill he is building for John Sutter near Coloma, California, January 24, 1848. When word spreads, gold-seeking "forty-niners" raise California's nonnative population from 14,000 to 100,000 in two years. Marshall dies penniless in 1885, and Sutter, his men gone prospecting and his land full of squatters, goes bankrupt. He dies in 1880, at 77.
75 YEARS AGO
WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?
A mystery rider on a fiery horse clears a man wrongfully accused of murder in the January 30, 1933, première of The Lone Ranger, on Detroit's WXYZ radio. Written by Fran Striker and played live by several actors over some 3,000 episodes (Brace Beemer, above, wore the mask from 1941 to 1954), the Ranger—with his Indian friend Tonto—airs on some 400 radio stations, and spurs movie serials, a TV show (starring Clayton Moore), books, comics and a romantic notion of the American West.