March Anniversaries | History | Smithsonian

March Anniversaries

Momentous or Merely Memorable

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30 YEARS AGO: Running Rings Around It
Using a 36-inch telescope mounted in a NASA aircraft flying 41,000 feet above the Indian Ocean, Cornell University researchers unexpectedly discover five thin rings circling the planet Uranus on March 10, 1977. Narrower than Saturn's and consisting of fragments of ice and rock, the new bands are named for letters of the Greek alphabet. Today, there are 13 known rings around the seventh planet, and Jupiter and Neptune have been found to have rings around them as well.

90 YEARS AGO: Nicholas' Nightmare
With World War I going badly, workers rioting and mutiny among the troops in St. Petersburg, Czar Nicholas II abdicates his throne on March 15, 1917, "in order to save Russia," bringing a swift end to the 300-year Romanov dynasty. As a power struggle ensues between a provisional government and Bolshevik revolutionaries, Nicholas and his family are held, to be shot in July 1918.

130 YEARS AGO: Hot Stuff
Maine teenager Chester Greenwood patents "ear-mufflers" March 13, 1877. Greenwood, whose large ears make for uncomfortable ice skating, enlists his grandmother to cover connected wire loops with fur. The factory he starts will produce 400,000 earmuffs a year. Greenwood secures over 100 patents before his death in 1937.

140 YEARS AGO: Frozen Asset
Though ridiculed as an "icebox," or a "polar bear garden," some 586,000 square miles of Alaska join America when U.S. Secretary of State William Henry Seward signs a treaty to buy the land from Russia, March 30, 1867. The price tag, $7.2 million—about two cents an acre—makes for a tough sell in the Senate, which ratifies "Seward's Folly" by a single vote.
Attitudes change with the discoveries of gold later in the century. Alaska gains statehood in 1959.

180 YEARS AGO: Free Speech
Freedom's Journal, the first African-American owned and operated newspaper, puts out its premire weekly issue in New York City, March 16, 1827. The paper pleads "our own cause" to readers in 11 states, covering such noted African-Americans as shipowner Capt. Paul Cuffee, and decrying slavery, until the paper's end in 1929.

260 YEARS AGO: Shocking Ideas
In March 1747 Benjamin Franklin begins documenting his experiments with electricity in a series of letters to British friend Peter Collinson. "I never was before engaged in any study that so engrossed my attention," he writes; the following year he retires from printing to pursue science. While his famous 1752 kite flight is not the first to identify lightning with electricity, Franklin's work leads to new understanding of electrical properties and uses.

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