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January Anniversaries

Momentous or merely memorable

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25 YEARS AGO: HOME AT LAST

Fifty-two hostages are set free by Iran on January 20, 1981, 444 days after their capture at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by an armed mob demanding that the United States return the ousted shah to Iran. David Roeder's first words to his wife after his release were "It's over!" In 2001, the embassy opened as a tourist attraction. Its cafeteria sells soft drinks in cups that carry the slogan "Down with America."

45 YEARS AGO: ROCKET CHIMP

Going where no primate had gone before, Ham the chimp blasts into outer space for a 16-minute rocket ride on January 31, 1961. Despite the difficulties—the ride was longer and faster than intended—the mission is declared a success, paving the way for America's first manned spaceflight some three months later. In 1963, Ham retires from NASA and settles into a simpler life at Washington's National Zoo. The world's first "chimponaut" dies in 1983 at the North Carolina Zoological Park.

300 YEARS AGO: SEXIEST SEPTUAGENARIAN ALIVE

Benjamin Franklin is born in Boston, January 17, 1706. Scientist, economist, inventor, abolitionist, publisher, poet, the words to describe Franklin are numerous, but the title of celebrity probably describes him best. "His reputation is greater than that of Newton, Frederick the Great or Voltaire," says John Adams. Franklin, during his days in France (1776-85), writes of his fame to his daughter: "Your father's face is now as well known as the man in the moon." America's first international superstar dies in Philadelphia in 1790 at the age of 84.

30 YEARS AGO: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

Flying faster than a speeding bullet and at more than twice the speed of sound, the Concorde enters commercial service on January 21, 1976, in Europe. A transatlantic flight between London and New York on the world's first supersonic airliner takes about three hours. In October 2003, the Concorde flies into history, having carried more than 2.5 million passengers across the skies.

250 YEARS AGO: MAGIC FINGERS

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756. A musical prodigy, he begins composing at the age of 5 and plays for the Austrian empress when he is 6. The wunderkind goes on tour and by the age of 12 is producing such works as the German operetta Bastien und Bastienne. Though criticized by some—"Too many notes," complains Emperor Joseph II—he is also widely praised. Composer Joseph Haydn declares Mozart "the greatest composer known." Mozart dies in Vienna in 1791 of rheumatic fever at the age of 35.

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