20 and 30 Years Ago
On March 24, 1989, a decade after the March 28, 1979, partial core meltdown in a reactor at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear plant, the tanker Exxon Valdez runs aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound, spilling 11 million gallons of oil, polluting 1,300 miles of coastline and decimating wildlife. The crisis of confidence in nuclear power safety that TMI sets off provokes stiffer rules and oversight; new plant applications are delayed until 2007. The Valdez spill leads to improved response plans and a requirement that ships in Prince William Sound be double-hulled by 2015.
60 Years Ago
On March 2, 1949, ninety-four hours after taking off from Carswell Air Force base in Fort Worth, Texas, Lucky Lady II, a B-50 Superfortress piloted by Capt. James Gallagher, completes the first nonstop flight around the world. The crew of 14 refuels the plane four times in midair during the more than 23,000-mile trip. The secret mission surprises even the crew's families—"I'd have had a storming tizzy if I'd known about it before- hand," second pilot Arthur Neal's wife tells a reporter—but is announced on completion as a demonstration of American ability to deliver bombs to any location.
120 Years Ago
"There's an attraction in things colossal," responds Gustave Eiffel to detractors who say his Paris tower—completed March 31, 1889, for the Universal Exhibition—is "useless and monstrous." At 1,023 feet, the Eiffel Tower—which will serve as a weather, telegraph and radio broadcast station as well as city symbol—is the world's tallest man-made structure, till 1929.
140 Years Ago
Dmitri Mendeleev's periodic table of elements, the first to be widely adopted, is presented to the Russian Chemical Society in March 1869. By arranging the 63 known elements in horizontal rows by atomic weight, Mendeleev recognizes that vertical patterns of similarities among the elements emerge if he leaves spaces between some of them, and he predicts the existence and properties of the missing elements. Within 15 years the discoveries of three new elements begin to prove his theories. Later scientists arrange the table—which now contains 111 officially recognized elements—by atomic number.
220 Years Ago
The first United States Congress convenes in New York City's newly built Federal Hall March 4, 1789. "I believe there will be inclination and abilities in the two houses to do everything that reasonable and sensible men can promise to themselves," writes Pennsylvania Senator Robert Morris. Before ending their session in 1791, the 95 members form committees; establish procedures; create the departments of war, foreign affairs and the treasury; enact the supreme, federal and district courts—and pass the Bill of Rights.